Dispute Resolution Updates: Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020
Since the Government introduced new social distancing measures due to the COVD-19 pandemic, most cases in the Scottish civil courts have come to a halt. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals announced that only essential or “urgent” business will call in court for the time being. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (“the Act”) has introduced temporary modifications to the law which will allow court business to be dealt with in line with the social distancing measures.
This article covers the modifications relating to the conduct of business by electronic means insofar as it relates to the civil courts.
Transfer of documents and electronic signatures
The Act allows for certain documents produced by a court or tribunal to be signed electronically (for more information on electronic signatures and what they are, you can take a look at a separate article we have published here). For most purposes, this means normal court documents can still be produced and served.
The Act further provides that these documents can be sent/served on a person, or to their solicitor, electronically. If you receive a document in an email or by any other electronic means, either from a solicitor or directly from the court or tribunal, you must comply with any orders or timescales contained in that document, as it is likely to be deemed to have been validly served. Most documents can also be lodged with the Court by sending them electronically.
As well as sending a document via email, the sender can upload the document to an electronic storage system, such as a data room, from which the recipient can download the document in order to effect service.
In most cases, the recipient of electronic documents must indicate that they are willing to accept electronic service of the document. However, that acceptance might be capable of being implied if, for example, the recipient had previously agreed to accept documents electronically.
Suspension of requirements for physical attendance in court and attending by electronic means
The Act has suspended the requirement for people to physically attend a court or tribunal, providing that they must instead appear by electronic means.
The court may, however, direct a person to attend physically if attending by electronic means would prejudice the fairness of proceedings or otherwise be contrary to the interests of justice.
In relation to a trial diet, a person must attend unless the court has directed them not to. If the court directs a person to attend Court, that person will have the opportunity to officially respond to that direction.
It is important to note that, failing to attend court via electronic means when you have been directed to do so will be regarded as equivalent to failing to comply with the direction to physically attend court.
This article is part of a series covering provisions of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. Further information on other aspects of the 2020 Act is available in a separate note.