Under new guidelines issued by the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service, certain categories of civil business in the Sheriff Court during the current Covid-19 lockdown will now be able to recommence.
The new guidance is effective from today, 1 May 2020 and details the measures which allow the following categories of Sheriff Court business to be dealt with:
- ordinary, family and commercial actions; adults with incapacity applications; corporate insolvency proceedings sisted by the court ex proprio motu; administratively adjourned to a date on or after 1 June 2020; or in respect of which no further order was made, where the court is satisfied that there is good reason why the action should be restarted and that the action can be progressed remotely without recourse to a hearing which requires the leading of evidence; and
- Commissary (winding up of estates).
While extremely encouraging and welcome, this is not yet a full return to business as usual. The courts are currently dealing with business identified as urgent and necessary, and the new guidance sets outs the basis upon which the court will determine if an action should be restarted.
Only actions that can be progressed remotely will be restarted.If an applicant is of the opinion that a case can progressed remotely then an application should be made by email in accordance with the procedure set out in the guidance: https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/default-document-library/coronavirus-guidance—progressing-certain-categories-of-civil-business-29-04-20.pdf?sfvrsn
Prior to making an application, the applicant shall explore with the other parties to the action whether a position on restarting the action and further procedure can be agreed or if not the extent to which there are disputed matters. A consent to an application is required for all other parties to the action, confirming that the application to restart is not opposed.
Once received by email the application will be considered by a sheriff as soon as is reasonably practicable. Prior to determining the application, the sheriff may request further submissions in writing or fix a hearing at which parties shall participate remotely. In determining the application, the sheriff will pronounce an interlocutor either:
- recalling the sist, re-enrolling the action or discharging the adjourned diet; and
- making such order as to the court seems proper; or refusing the application.
Where an application is refused, the sheriff will provide reasons for doing so.
We expect a rush of applications from agents and parties to have their cases heard, so it remains to be seen how quickly the new guidelines and procedure will move things along for many. Nevertheless, it is certainly a step that is considered indicative of positive progress.
Eric McQueen, SCTS Chief Executive said: “This is not a return to business as usual but the first step towards the resumption of civil business in the sheriff courts. We need everyone to act responsibility and proportionately in bringing cases forward for consideration, to ensure that volumes can be managed…Compliance with the government’s stringent measures to slow the spreads of the virus is vital and any return to a new normal will be on a phased basis.”