News In Focus
Glasgow marks 15 years of sheriff commercial court
Further efforts to improve the commercial court in Glasgow Sheriff Court have been promised by the sheriff principal, as the court marks its 15th anniversary.
Speaking at a reception to mark the occasion, Sheriff Principal Craig Scott emphasised that while responses from a users' survey relating to the court were already being analysed, the court was still willing to hear further views.
In his address he said:
"When in 1999 my predecessor Ted Bowen established our commercial court, the 1993 Ordinary Cause Rules were already widely viewed as a failure. In contrast, when after a passage of a similar period of time Elaine Samuels examined the operation of the commercial court, she was able to report on high levels of satisfaction. The reasons for the difference are well understood. Key factors were the early involvement of the sheriff and the institution of the telephone case management conference, which allowed the sheriff to deal directly with those possessing a detailed knowledge of the case.
"One component, which perhaps has not received sufficient notice, is the commitment which, over time, the profession has shown towards making the court a success. That is reflected most obviously in the decision that any particular action should be raised as a commercial cause, and that it should be raised here in Glasgow rather than in the Court of Session. More subtly, the profession’s commitment to making the court work manifests itself in acceptance of the disciplines of the court in terms of the practicalities of exchanging pleadings, being properly prepared for case management conferences, in making principal solicitors or counsel available for conferences, co-operating in fixing dates for hearings, and a host of other small contributions to the expeditious progress of actions. The court only works properly when the profession accepts its ethos.
"Thus far I may have risked sounding a little like Dr Pangloss, with everything being for the best in the best of all possible courts. In truth I recognise that we could do better. As you know, this event was timed to coincide with a survey of satisfaction levels. People have already responded in sufficient numbers for us to gain some meaningful information. If you have not already done so then I would encourage you now to return the form.
"From our analysis of the responses received so far, I can report that the highest levels of satisfaction are with the court’s ability to focus on issues and with the opportunity afforded for direct access to sheriffs. The court also scores well in terms of speed, flexible timetabling, judicial control of the process, the use of preliminary proofs and debates, and in terms of your own clients’ satisfaction.
"The most significant area of perceived weakness is in relation to accommodation, something that I was already alive to and which within the current budgetary constraints I am attempting to address. Satisfaction with court staff was high, but among those who expressed dissatisfaction it would be fair to say that they were very dissatisfied: again something that will require to be looked into.
"Another area where opinions differed greatly was that of cost. There were comments to the effect that at least up until the stage of debate or proof, there were cost savings relative to ordinary procedure, that the court was more cost effective than the Court of Session, and that telephone case management conferences help to reduce costs. Unfortunately, no one offered practical advice on how costs might be kept down, and if anyone has any thoughts on that issue, the commercial sheriffs would be happy to listen.
"I think it is hugely important never to lose sight of the fact that no one has to bring their action in the commercial court. In a real sense you are customers with a choice. It was with that in mind that this evening’s celebration was conceived. I want you to understand that your business is more than welcome in this court. Indeed I would like to see an increase in levels of activity, because that in turn would justify the allocation of more resources. Finally, I want the court to be responsive to your needs. To that end, let me make it clear that the commercial sheriffs, and I, are more than willing to hear your concerns, suggestions, or whatever else might lead to an improvement in the operation of the court."