The Law Society of Scotland has warned that delays and problems in obtaining access to justice could result from far-reaching reforms of the civil courts north of the border.

The Scottish government yesterday passed the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill. This increases the threshold for cases being heard in the sheriff court from £5,000 to £100,000, and introduces both specialist sheriffs and a three-month time limit for bringing judicial review applications.

Kim Leslie, convener to the Law Society of Scotland’s Civil Justice Committee said: ‘This bill is a major step forward in civil court reform and we recognise that the current system is long overdue for such reform. We very much welcome the introduction of specialist sheriffs, many of whom will be former solicitors.

‘They will have practised in a specific area of law such as housing or family law for many years and will be extremely well placed to adjudicate these types of cases.

‘We do however still have real concerns about how the courts are going to resource some of the other changes, such as the change in the jurisdiction limit. This will have the knock on effect of hugely increasing the number of cases going through the sheriff courts, where previously they would have been raised in the Court of Session. 

‘Along with the programme of court closures that is currently under way, the pressure on the system is likely to lead to delays, and members of the public who use the courts will have to wait longer for judgements.’

Ms Leslie added: 'We still have serious concerns that a three month time limit to bring a judicial review application is unduly restrictive. Together with the requirement for permission to bring an action from the Court of Session, and the need to prove to the court that the application has a real prospect of success, this is in our view too high a test and will seriously reduce access to justice.’