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New court limits come in on Monday

11 January 2008

The new financial limits for sheriff court actions come into force on Monday (14 January).

From that date, any action with a value up to £3,000 must be raised as a small claim - previously only actions worth not more than £750 came into this category.

However an exclusion applies for actions of damages for personal injury, as these are thought too complex to expect litigants to present their own case.

Where the value of a small claim is between £200 and £1,500, the sheriff will be able to award expenses up to £150; for claims over £1,500, the limit is 10% of the claim. No award can be made for cases below £200 in value.

Cases falling within the summary cause rules will from Monday be those with a value in the £3,000-£5,000 range, and lower value personal injury claims. The Ordinary Cause Rules will apply where the value exceeds £5,000.

It will no longer be possible to sue in the Court of Session for any case not worth more than £5,000.

The new rules apply to actions raised from 14 January onwards.

Welcome, and a warning

The Scottish Consumer Council says the increase in the limit on small claims is a significant step towards matching the law with the reality of how people buy goods and services.

SCC chair Douglas Sinclair said the organisation believed thousands of people would now be able to get a fairer settlement using the procedure where, previously, they often had to make do with much less than they had paid.

"We have been lobbying hard for a realistic small claims limit for a number of years. Today the law moves in to line with the reality of people's spending. Every day people in Scotland buy expensive items such as computers, holidays and home improvements, and they will now enjoy protection when they spend up to £3,000 instead of just £750."

However Mike Dailly, principal solicitor at Govan Law Centre, claims it is a major defect that housing disrepair cases are not exempt in the same way as personal injury cases. He explained: "In England & Wales personal injury and housing disrepair cases over £1,000 are exempt. The reason being you will generally need a solicitor and you will generally need expert evidence - medical in personal injury cases or from an architect for housing disrepair."

Mr Dailly called on Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to put the omission right as a matter of urgency. "The failure to do so will mean that some of Scotland's most vulnerable citizens, i.e. those on income support or other benefits living in damp living conditions or with serious disrepair, will have no access to civil justice from Monday. That is because no civil legal aid is available for claims up to £3,000 for implement (an order that the landlords do something) or compensation for inconvenience (typically £1,000 per annum for living in terrible housing conditions where the landlord is in breach of contract)."