The Civil Justice System’s Pandemic Response: What Worked, What Did Not, and Recommendations for the Future

Scottish Civil Justice Hub Projects

Project Overview

This project, commissioned by Scottish Government’s Justice Analytical Service and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, will evaluate the changes made to civil justice processes and procedures as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. The project seeks to improve and expand the evidence base so that any decision on whether specific pandemic measures such as online hearings are continued, amended further, or discarded is informed by relevant and current research. 

From March 2020 Scotland’s courts and tribunals made a number of significant and swift changes to processes and procedures to comply with public health measures. These changes included a move towards remote hearings via video conferencing or, in some circumstances, by telephone, widespread use of electronic documents and greater use of written witness statements and, in some cases, a move towards judicial decisions being taken on papers alone without the requirement for hearings.

Research Aims and Objectives

This research, which is being conducted through a partnership between researchers at the School of Law and Ipsos Scotland, will inform the future vision for the civil courts, tribunals and civil justice more broadly. Data collection will focus on a specific group of court and tribunals and case types, namely the Mental Health Tribunal Scotland (MHTS), the Health and Education Chamber of the Second Tier Tribunal (HEC) and family cases and commercial actions heard by the Sheriff Courts and the Court of Session.

The main aim is to improve and expand the existing evidence base on ‘remote hearings’ and other pandemic measures adopted by the Scottish courts and tribunals, so that any decision on whether they should continue to be used, adapted or discarded is informed by relevant, current and high quality research.

The research is structured around the following key questions:

  1. In what way have the courts/tribunals under study adapted their processes and procedures as a result of the pandemic?
  2. What has been the impact of the ‘pandemic measures’ adopted by the courts/tribunals, specifically remote hearings, on service users, staff and the judiciary?
  3. Do changes need to be made to the ‘pandemic measures’, specifically remote hearings, to ensure ‘access to justice’ for service users? If so, what changes would be suggested?

The findings will be used to determine whether the experience of remote hearings and associated measures introduced during the pandemic are experienced differently by different groups of users, including parties, court and tribunal staff and the judiciary.

Research Methods

The project adopts a mixed methodology incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis including:

  • A rapid review of existing evidence relevant to the different elements of Scotland’s civil justice system’s pandemic response relating to the court/tribunal and case types under consideration.
  • An online survey of professionals involved in the civil justice system across the court/tribunal and case types covered, aimed at providing a broad picture of professional views and experiences of remote hearings.
  • Qualitative interviews with parties in family law cases, commercial actions, the MHTS and the HEC since March 2020, exploring how pandemic measures shaped their experience of the process and their access to justice.
  • Qualitative interviews with professionals, including members of the judiciary, tribunal members, legal representatives, and other stakeholders working across the case types covered by the research.

Project Funding

This project is funded by the Scottish Government. Amount of Award £130,000.

Project Dates

August 2023

Project Outputs

A report to Scottish Government detailing the research findings and recommendations for a future model aimed at ensuring an improved service, equal treatment, and access to justice for all users of Scotland’s civil justice system.

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