How Simple Are The New Simple Procedure Rules?
On the 28th November 2016 the Simple Procedure Rules came in to force in all sheriff courts in Scotland, replacing the small claims/summary cause procedure for recovering debts which have a value of £5,000 or less. The change was initiated as the old summary cause/small claims rules were regarded as being too complicated due to there being two different sets of rules (called Summary Cause & Small Claims) when it was felt there could simply be one?
Additionally it was felt that there was too much legal jargon used within those rules which confused anyone raising an action themselves.
To overcome this the new rules were to be drafted in plain English and be structured like legal aid or benefit forms making them easier to use & follow. They were also to be submitted electronically to the courts bringing the whole process into the 21st century.
The question is whether or not the new rules make the recovery of debt any easier for the parties involved?
Clarity of the new Claim Form
Unfortunately the claim forms are not as simple as the name suggests with the questions surrounding jurisdiction being particularly confusing, which could lead to forms being directed to the wrong Sheriff Courts which will cost both time and money.
The proposed online integrated case management system is still under development by the Scottish Court Service which has resulted in Claim forms being printed and then delivered in person or by post to the Courts. As the claim forms are themselves lengthy documents of approximately 11 pages this is resulting in a large volume of printing & paper being required. Currently it is hoped that the online system will be available in Spring 2017.
Method of Service Concerns
If post is chosen as the preferred service method then the cost of serving is significantly higher with the requirement for the Claimant to use a “next-day postal service which records delivery” which would indicate using the special delivery guaranteed postal service at a cost of around £7.50 – previously around £1.75.
In addition the Claimant is required to include a Response Form in Form 4A along with copies of the Claim Form, the Timetable (Form 3D issued by the Court) and if the Respondent is entitled to do so a blank Form 5A Time To Pay Application. This is a substantial number of pages and indeed forms to be reviewed, considered and potentially filled in and returned to the Court.
In light of the highlighted issues above we are yet to see any obvious benefit from the introduction of the new Simple Procedure Rules. Bringing online the new case management system at the Courts will help alleviate some of the problems allowing some users to take advantage of potential benefits in admin and case timelines.