Doubts about the financial viability of Government plans for sweeping court reform continue to dog the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill ahead of further parliamentary debate today (Tuesday).
MSPs have been scathing about the financial memorandum to the Bill, calling it"sloppy", "not credible", and "at best incoherent". MSPs on the justice and finance committees have been particularly concerned about the prospect of a £1 million deficit in income from court fees* once the vast majority of personal injury claims are transferred from the Court of Session to the sheriff courts.
"The Government has offered assurances that there will not be a huge hike in court fees to help pay for these reforms, which court users will welcome," said Ronnie Conway, Scottish co-ordinator of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). "But the fact remains that these proposals will leave a huge deficit in the public purse.”
There are also fears that the proposed new specialist personal injury court will hit the buffers within months of opening, due to lack of resourcing.
"These reforms are broadly to be welcomed," said Mr Conway. "There is no doubt that, if proper resources are put in place to ensure they work, they will change radically the way the court system operates and mainly for the better.
“But it’s impossible to see how the specialist court in Edinburgh can hope to operate with only two specialist sheriffs to deal with more than 2,700 additional personal injury cases from the Court of Session. Once personal injury trials start to pile up it will be completely overwhelmed.
“The case has still not been made for how these reforms are to be resourced and what they will cost,” he went on. “At the moment, what is being sold as an improvement to the justice system for the people of Scotland could well be derailed before it even gets going.”