Debt cases in court down 45%

The number of debt disputes raised in Scotland's courts has fallen by 45% over a four-year period, new data shows.

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Official figures published by Scotland's chief statistician reveal 35,899 debt cases were initiated in the civil courts in 2012-13, down 11% on the previous year and a drop of 45% since 2008/09.

The vast majority of these were raised in sheriff courts, with only six cases going to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the highest civil court in Scotland.

Overall, the number of all civil disputes going before the courts has fallen by 41% in four years to 77,453 last year.

The figures were contained in the latest civil law statistics and provide an overview of trends in the types of cases coming to the non-criminal courts.

The debt disputes raised accounted for almost half of the total number of civil law cases brought to court last year.

But debt cases have been decreasing steadily since 2008-09. Changes in types of borrowing, settlements out of court and perceived lower chances of recovering money are among the possible causes for the drop, according to officials.

Nine in 10 debt cases were not defended in court and three in four were brought to court for claims of £3,000 or less.

Other figures show there were 13,862 family cases raised in Scottish courts in 2012-13, a drop of 7% since 2008-09. More than 99% of these were raised in sheriff courts, with very few family cases going to Court of Session judges.

Three in four family cases raised in the civil courts related to divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

In 2012-13, the number of dissolutions of civil partnerships granted was 67, up from 46 the previous year. Officials said the total figure was a reflection of the rising number of people entering civil partnerships since their inception in 2005.

The 9,684 divorces granted last year was down 2% on the 2011-12 level and a drop of 14% compared with 2008-09.

In Scotland, 5,385 repossession and 10,532 eviction cases were initiated in sheriff courts last year, down by 20% and 25% respectively since 2011-12 and both down by 47% since 2008-09.

There were 8,725 personal injury cases in 2012-13, a rise of 11% on the previous year but still lower than the levels recorded in 2010-11. Road traffic and accident at work claims make up the bulk of such cases.

The number of damages cases initiated in the civil courts during 2012-13 decreased by 11% over the year to 3,278. Almost nine out of 10 damages cases were brought at sheriff court level.

Chief statistician Roger Halliday said: "There has been a continuous decline in the number of civil law court cases, a trend driven by the drop in debt cases. Despite the decline in debt cases, they still make up nearly half civil law cases in courts, followed by family disputes, eviction cases and personal injury claims."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the figures, which show the number of civil cases being heard at the Court of Session has remained "steady", underline the need for court reform.

Ministers said the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill aims to speed up Scotland's courts by ensuring that cases are heard at the appropriate level - freeing up the Court of Session to deal with the most challenging civil disputes.

Mr MacAskill said: "At present too many cases, particularly lower value personal injury cases, are being raised in the Court of Session - clogging up the system and resulting in higher costs and delays for the parties involved.

"Through our court reforms we will ensure such cases can be heard at a new, national specialist personal injury court, where they can be dealt with more swiftly at a lower cost. This will have little impact on the sheriff courts themselves - representing only a 3% transfer of civil cases - but will have a considerable impact on the Court of Session, enabling it to focus on more complex cases."

Housing Minister Margaret Burgess said the Scottish Government has introduced measures to help people struggling under the burden of debt.

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