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Lord President tracks court business changes at legal year opening

23 September 2019

Parliament House is a less busy place due to the process of change, but the higher courts continue to deal with the "great legal issues of the day" which have "captured the public imagination", the Lord President, Lord Carloway, said today.

Delivering his annual address at the opening of the new legal year, Lord Carloway noted the effect of the planned reduction in Court of Session business following the Gill review, along with the significant change in lawyers' work patterns stemming from advances in technology. There was less need for them to come to Parliament House, and the building appeared less busy. 

"Nevertheless," he continued, "the building is rightly the centre of our legal system and it is important that the building and the history of the system is preserved for future generations. Here we remain: dealing with the great legal issues of the day, whether concerning local difficulties stemming from our unique Scots civil or criminal law and practice, or the great United Kingdom and potentially Europe wide constitutional issues which have captured the public imagination over the last few weeks."

The Lord President said it remained "at the forefront of my thinking" the reforms ought to enable the courts to deliver "noticeably faster and improved justice", helping to make Scotland an attractive place for the resolution of disputes, whether with a Scottish dimension or "those where international parties are seeking a cost effective, recognisably neutral, English speaking jurisdiction".

Turning to the High Court, Lord Carloway pointed out that the number of indictments had increased by 26% in 2018-19 and by a further 9% in the first quarter of the current year. Compared to when he started in practice 40 years ago, there were far more courts and these were sitting more or less constantly. But they were coping, thanks to "a remarkable team of first instance judges". The Appeal Court, thanks to a planned reduction in business, was now "a much more efficient unit which deals with the most serious of criminal appeals within a few months of the note of appeal, rather than the years of yesteryear".

The Lord President went on to record the passing of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019, implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review, and through which "The aspiration of using pre-trial recorded witness accounts will now become a reality", as well as the new evidence suite for children and vulnerable witnesses in Glasgow. Other developments of note included the new Glasgow Tribunals Centre, the Inverness Justice Centre, to be operational next spring, and the launch of Civil Online, which had now enabled the first case to be run entirely digitally from start to finish.

On the last innovation he commented: "The experience of digital justice in simple procedure is but an early step on the journey to the adoption of online processing across the whole system of courts and tribunals. This has not been easy. There is a long way to go and we need to all find a way of turning these small steps into bigger strides in the coming years. This is not the time for defence of tradition. Online cannot be viewed as an option or alternative to the courts system; it is the future of the court system."

Lord Carloway expressed his thanks to his judicial colleagues, Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service executives and staff, and members of the legal profession who contributed to the process of reform, and concluded by welcoming the nine newly appointed Queen's Counsel.

Click here to view the address.

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