In 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Scottish Parliament made changes to the law affecting how civil court hearings can take place, allowing live visual (video) and/or audio (telephone) links from any location. The changes suspended the requirement for parties to physically attend hearings.
These changes to the law were due to be revoked in September 2021; however, certain parts of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation have now been extended until March 2022.
The Scottish Civil Justice Council (SCJC) is now considering whether any of the procedural changes enacted by the COVID Laws should be developed further, particularly in relation to the conduct of civil court hearings, and other business, via electronic means which facilitate remote attendance.
Consultation on mode of attendance at court hearings in civil proceedings
The consultation sought views on how the new rules affect the ways in which court hearings are conducted in the Court of Session and in the Sheriff Courts.
In particular, the consultation focused on:
- Which types of hearings were suitable for attendance via electronic means and which were suitable only for in-person attendance.
- How the mode of attendance could be altered if the circumstances justified a change from the general presumption (default position)
- How a change in mode of attendance could be handled by the court when it is in the interests of justice
Consultation responses from solicitors, and other interested parties, will inform the SCJC on how the rules and associated frameworks can assist the court system and enable access to justice following COVID-19 and in the longer term.
Thompsons Solicitors in Scotland respond to the consultation
Thompsons welcomed the opportunity to respond to the consultation paper and thanked the Scottish Court Service for the work it has undertaken to ensure the continuation of court hearings and judicial business throughout the pandemic.
Thompsons recognised that significant beneficial developments have occurred in the way that some court business has been conducted and supports the retention of many of these procedures.
However, Thompsons Solicitors in Scotland is concerned that the proposed rules in relation to in-person hearings will dilute the fundamental principle of access to justice and damage the deserved reputation of the Scottish legal system as a forum of fairness, equality and openness, where those who seek their day in Court can have it.
In conclusion, the Thompsons' consultation response says:
The proposed changes in the court rules are a challenge to some of the fundamental principles of our legal system. Should there be an overall will for that change, Thompsons would wish to see some sort of pilot scheme in operation for a reasonable period of time, to be subject to stringent review and a further consultation before any permanent change is made to the way our courts are accessed.