Scottish Personal Injury Court – An update on the impact of Coronavirus
The Guidance emphasises that a return to “business as usual” for the PI Court is some time away.
Since lockdown started in earnest in March, the Scottish court system has been operating on a significantly reduced basis. It remains the case that only ten Sheriff Courts are open across Scotland, with those courts dealing with urgent and/or essential civil and criminal business in their respective Sheriffdoms.
Focusing on the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court, which is the court of choice for personal injury proceedings north of the border where the sum sought is less than £100,000, new guidance (“the Guidance”) has been issued that provides a positive step forward in terms of how PI proceedings will be progressed but, at the same time, it is clear that considerable limitations remain in place.
As per the recent Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, all court hearings will continue to be conducted remotely until further notice. There is also the ability to use electronic signatures and electronic submission for all court documents.
One aspect that will cause the claimant community concern is the ongoing restriction in relation to issuing new proceedings. It remains the case that the PI Court will prioritise the processing of new Initial Writs by limitation/timebar date order. Significantly, where the limitation/timebar date is more than six months away, new proceedings are strongly discouraged.
Urgent court applications will continue to be dealt with but it remains to be seen when proofs will be able to be heard. All proof diets due to take place until 19 June 2020 have already been put on hold while those proofs currently scheduled between 20 June and 31 July 2020 will now be dealt with on a similar basis unless they settle prior to that time. No jury trials will be held until further notice.
Until there is more certainty about when the current restrictions might be eased, no timetable has been given for the resumption of proofs. One glimmer of light in that regard is the recent introduction of online Virtual Court technology in the Court of Session. The use of this technology remains in its early stages but provided the trial is successful, it is expected that this will be rolled out to the PI Court as soon as practicable.
It should be noted that for PI proceedings that have not been put on hold, the existing court timetable must still be complied with, allowing these cases to progress in a normal fashion. However, if settlement is not achieved, there is a large question mark over when the proof will actually be held.
The Guidance emphasises that a return to “business as usual” for the PI Court is some time away. However, it is also clear that the new framework will be kept under regular review, allowing further improvements to be made as soon as appropriate. The experiences of the Court of Session trial will be a key aspect in that regard. We will be monitoring the position closely and keep you updated.