From 22 September 2015, Scotland has a new personal injury court available for compensation claims by victims of accidents.
Scotland is divided into 6 Sheriffdoms:
- Tayside, Central and Fife;
- South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway;
- North Strathclyde;
- Lothian and Borders;
- Grampian, Highland and Islands; and
- Glasgow and Strathkelvin
Within each Sheriffdom, there are several Sheriff Courts. Scotland has 49 such courts, each covering a defined geographical area.
A remarkable Sheriff Court
The unusual feature of the Sheriff Personal Injury Court is that it sits only in Edinburgh but has jurisdiction extending across the whole of Scotland. So, for example, if you are injured in an accident in Moray, before these changes, your Sheriff Court for a damages action would only have been Elgin Sheriff Court. Now, you can choose between the local Sheriff court and the national all-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court.
The increased importance of Sheriff Courts generally
This change comes about at a time when the highest civil court in Scotland, the Court of Session, is having its jurisdiction limits altered so that you won’t be allowed to litigate claims there unless they have a value in excess of £100,000. The vast majority of personal injury claims are worth less than £100,000 and they now have to go to the Sheriff Court.
Which claims can you make in the national PI court?
The new national personal injury court is not available for all levels of claim. In general, you cannot use the national court –
- For injuries sustained at work or in the course of work, unless the value of your claim exceeds £1,000; and
- In any other case, unless the value of your claim exceeds £5,000.
Having said that, Sheriffs in local Sheriff Courts will be allowed to make the decision to transfer cases to the national court, irrespective of the value of the claim, where the importance or difficulty of the proceedings makes it appropriate to transfer the proceedings to the Sheriff Personal Injury Court. This recognises the fact that, just because a personal injury claim is “low value”, there can still be difficult or complex issues involved.
Specialist Sheriffs and jury trials
The fact that a specialist court has been set up is recognised by the fact that 6 specialist Sheriffs have been appointed to deal with the caseload.
Jury Trials in the Court of Session have been influential in increasing levels of compensation in certain areas of personal injury practice, especially in fatal accident claims. Jury Trials will be available in the Sheriff Personal Injury Court, but not in any other Sheriff Courts, and this will be one factor to consider when deciding whether to litigate a claim in the national personal injury court.
This is a monumental development in relation to personal injury claims in Scotland and it will be interesting to see how practice develops. It seems likely that the availability of specialist Sheriffs, tailored procedures and, in some cases, Jury Trials, guarantee that the new court will see a significant level of business.
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