The Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill will introduce important procedural limitations to the process of judicial review in Scotland. Judicial review allows individual citizens to seek a remedy for the unlawful conduct of public authorities and decision makers. In a country without a written constitution which governs the relationship between the individual and the State, its function is all the more important. These statutory changes will regulate all future judicial reviews applications. Close scrutiny will be required to ensure that the remedy remains effective and accessible in practice.
The wider proposed reforms in the Bill will lead to a significant amount of additional business for the Sheriff Court. We are concerned that the Sheriff Court may not have the capacity to cope with the likely volume of cases that will result not just from these reforms, but from the implementation of the court closures programme, the amount of criminal business that is already transferring from the High Court, and the effect of the proposed abolition of corroboration.
JUSTICE’s primary concern is that of resource. The Financial Memorandum to the Bill makes it clear that the reforms are intended to be self-funding. There is no provision for further judicial capacity. The additional business will require to be dealt with by the existing complement of sheriff clerks, and fiscals in criminal matters. The IT budgets appear extremely low. The savings are not clear.
The Bill places a significant level of responsibility and increase in power upon the office of Lord President. The Committee may wish to consider whether the Bill has provided an appropriate system of checks and balances in relation to the exercise of those powers to ensure their accountability.