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Craig Bell v. The Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police and others [2010] CSOH 140


The pursuer sought damages of £550,000 from the from the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police and from the Scottish Ministers, the latter being responsible for the acts and omissions of the Scottish Prison Service. It was averred that on 12 November 2007, while employed as a prison officer at Polmont Young Offenders Institute, the pursuer's finger was jabbed by a dirty syringe while searching the property of new detainees.

In this motion, the Chief Constable invited the court remit the action to the Sheriff Court under the terms of section 14 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1985. The Chief Constable submitted that if the case had been raised in the Sheriff Court, it could have been dealt with by in-house solicitors at considerably less expense than is involved in defending proceedings in the Court of Session. The costs incurred by the defenders would not be recoverable from the legally aided pursuer, and it was submitted that the impact on the public purse of the costs of this action should be a relevant consideration in terms of section 14, as it bears on the “nature of the action”. It was submitted that the pursuer would have no procedural advantage through litigating in the Court of Session and would suffer no prejudice if the matter were to be remitted to the Sheriff Court.

Counsel for pursuer submitted that he was entitled to litigate in the Court of Session and that the state of public finances had no bearing on the interpretation of section 14. It was submitted that considering the potential value of the action and its complexity, it was wholly appropriate to be litigated in the Court of Session. It was also suggested that it would be wrong to discriminate against legally aided pursuers, thereby forcing them to litigate in the Sheriff Courts.

The Lord Ordinary noted that the wording of section 14 was designed to prevent the court from remitting cases to the Sheriff Courts, which are not appropriate for that forum. In dismissing the defender's motion, the Lord Ordinary noted that the Chief Constable was not raising an issue concerned with the “nature of the action”, but rather was raising an issue relating to the state of the public finances of the country, and the budgetary constraints facing him. The Lord Ordinary noted that there was nothing in the specific circumstances of action to make it appropriate to remit the case to the Sheriff Court, and taking into account the case's high value and complexity, it was wholly appropriate to remain before the Court of Session. Motion refused.