COVID-19 has affected every aspect of life in Scotland and the courts are no different. The lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on 23 March is due to last three weeks, with the possibility of an extension. The following is a summary of each court's practice during the lockdown, and what it means for your case.
The situation with the Courts has, like most other businesses in recent times, been changing on a daily (if not hourly) basis. The primary measure now applying across all courts is that only essential and urgent business should be allowed to continue.
Court of Session
New guidance on electronic documents and attendance at hearings was issued on 20 March 2020, and is ostensibly to apply until 30 April 2020 unless extended. Any document that can be submitted to the court can now be done via email, including new summonses, petitions, appeals, motions, caveats, and inventories of productions.
Scanned signatures are now accepted in place of wet signatures where required, however documents requiring a wet signature will be required to be lodged at a later date.
The Court of Session has also provided for situations where physical appearance in court is not possible, provided that the hearing is not one in which evidence is to be led. Parties can request that a hearing take place via either telephone conference call or written submissions. Cases will proceed as far as possible through the holding of hearings in these ways.
The full guidance, including standard forms for requesting telephone or written submission hearings can be found here.
However, as of 25 March 2020, all non-essential civil business will be continued to a later date. All hearings and deadlines have been postponed. Interlocutors are not being issued unless cases are classed as "urgent", which include "child abduction petitions, interim interdicts and other urgent matters on cause shown". It is not yet clear whether non-essential cases will still be capable of progressing without hearings in terms of the guidance on 20 March 2020.
All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court
Guidance issued by Sheriff McGowan on 24 March 2020 advised that the court will only be dealing with urgent business. All proofs of any kind, and debates, due to take place between now and 19 June 2020 will be discharged and actions paused in the meantime.
Only urgent motions should be lodged. Opposed motions which the court is satisfied are urgent will be dealt with by way of telephone conference and/or written submissions, in a similar way to ongoing business in the Court of Session.
Similarly to the updated Court of Session procedures, documents can now be lodged via email and scans of signed documents will be accepted instead of hard copies previously requiring wet signatures. PDF copies of initial writs will be accepted. One difference with the Court of Session practice note is that the ASSPIC guidance specifically asks parties not to lodge any productions at this time.
Sheriff Court and Sheriff Appeal Court
All Sheriff Court business has been consolidated into one court per Sheriffdom, other than undertakings. Undertakings will continue to call in the court specified where possible, or one of the remaining Sheriff Courts.
As with the Court of Session, only urgent business is being dealt with in the remaining 10 Sheriff Courts. Urgent business has been classed as any of the following:
- New applications for child protection orders
- Interim interdicts
- Child referral appeals
- Urgent adoptions
- Urgent interim residence
- Contact applications
- Urgent applications in relation to Adults with Incapacity
If clients feel that their business is urgent, we are on hand to contact the court to see if the case or application can be dealt with.
The Scottish Court and Tribunals website, with complete updated guidance and a list of Sheriff Courts which remain open, can be found at www.scotcourts.gov.uk.
Harper Macleod will endeavour to provide any further updates provided by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
Get in touch
If you require any advice relating to the above information, please get in touch with a member of our team