UK: Revolutionising The Scottish Courts

Last Updated: 20 April 2001
Article by Stephen Cowan

The very nature of court actions leads to an administration nightmare. In Summary Cause actions, less than £1,500.00, court staff have to record a great deal of information including parties to the action, their addresses and the sum sued for. As the case progresses through the court additional information has to be entered against each case such as when decree can be granted, when it actually is granted and whether or not a defender has made any representation to the court. All this has to be entered in columns -and because so much information has to be entered for each case the number of columns is necessarily large. No small wonder that the "court books" take on Dickensian nature.

Not so long ago when I examined the books I was amazed by their sheer size and volume – often with handwritten script entries being made up.

Obviously the practice of having to handwrite Court records into one large Journal was necessitated by the fact different criteria and events "had to be tracked" against each particular case. The system worked well for generations.

However, radical improvements are to take place by the introduction of state of the art information technology. The Scottish Court Service have been piloting the "Court Management System" to record and manage cases through the Courts. There are three principal stages to the process:

  • Registration:or initiation of the process
  • Tracking:the progress of the case
  • Disposal:of the case by recording the outcome of each stage

The "platform" for the system will be the use of a Microsoft Access Interface. How will this impact for Debt Recovery Cases? For example, once Court action is initiated the defender (defendant) is given an opportunity to formally intimate a defence, the right to pay the debt by instalments or an intention to appear in court. Such intimations have to be returned to the Court by the defender within a defined time. To establish whether anything has been returned the claimant's lawyer has to contact the Court ,often by telephone. This takes up a great deal of time for both the claimant's lawyer and, indeed, the Court staff.

Now matters will soon be put entirely on their head. Airdrie Sheriff Court is one of the Courts piloting the project. They are now able to send out a form intimating what, if anything, has been returned to them by the defender. So, rather than the claimant contacting the court about each case, the court will now contact claimants’ lawyers – all automatically. This is one of the radical improvements in efficiency the new system will introduce. When I received this form from Airdrie I was so pleasantly surprised I immediately telephoned David Forrester, the Court Sheriff Clerk, to ask him what was going on.

Shortly after I was invited by David to see the project in operation. The Court Information Services Manager, David Morris, was also in attendance. What I thought was going to be a half hour meeting lasted two and a half hours. I was enthusiastically shown the sheer functional ability and flexibility the Scottish Court Service will be able to provide.

The saving in time and effort by lawyers and court staff will be quite dramatic. For a firm like Yuill & Kyle it will literally save many hours per week. We are sure this will be replicated within the Court Service.

The ability of the Court to record information in different fields will enhance case management by tracking the stages and status of cases. Dealing with enquiries will be radically improved with no long silences over the phone for the sheriff clerk to locate the appropriate book. . This is because as the whole system will be "on line" Court staff will be able to deal with enquiries by accessing their screen and taking advantage of sophisticated search facilities.

Also the Court will be able to provide management reports and statistics which will assist them with pro active case management. Soon there will be no need for anyone in the Court to produce any Dickensian tombs. By simply viewing the screen and with the aid of the various search facilities access to all types of information will be facilitated.

In addition with all the information being cleverly electronically stored in Access this will greatly assist with the production of Court documents along with a large variety of reports.

It is nothing short of a revolution with what some have seen as an anti-diluvian system being fully replaced by the end of March 200l. This is great news for the Court user. All will benefit, not least the Scottish Court Service who will be able to provide an administration as good as any in the Western World. I personally am very much looking forward to March 200l as I am fully aware Yuill & Kyle’s litigation will be easier to administer as the result of the Scottish Court Service initiative.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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