Citizens Advice Scotland has responded to a consultation on the proposed merging of the Scottish Tribunals Service and the Scottish Court Service.
The Citizens Advice Service in Scotland continues to support and represent users of the civil justice system and strongly advocates the principle of access to justice. Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country contribute an enormous effort in advice, support and representation in almost all areas of civil justice, but predominantly in housing, debt and welfare benefits.
If an issue does reach the stage of tribunal or Sheriff court, bureaux then undertake vital work to support and represent clients. In 2011/2012, bureaux represented clients in over 5,500 civil court and tribunal cases – this included providing representation in housing, debt and small claims work in Sheriff courts as well as in welfare and employment tribunals.
- The Board of the merged organisations should not simply make "changes to the structure of the current SCS Board" but should entail a fundamental review of the overall Board structure –ensuring that at least one member represents consumer interests
- The Board should have keen consideration for the changing civil justice landscape.
- A single gateway for information should be established to provide clear and accessible information to users on court process, tribunal process and the role of ADR.
- Joint training opportunities between the judiciary and tribunal members should be encouraged on commonalities facing users within their specialisms.
- An integration and training programme for all staff will be key to providing an integrated service and facilitating discussion on improvement in practice.
- Maintaining the individual nature of tribunals is important but there are areas where (particularly the civil court system) benefit would come from the sharing of best practice – particularly in IT, user-focused practice and in the development of the role of Summary Sheriffs.
- CAS recommends that an independent review of the merged service happens after three years of operation.