Courts of Scotland

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Entrance to the Parliament House, the home of the Supreme Courts of Scotland, in Parliament Square, Edinburgh.

The civil, criminal and heraldic courts of Scotland are responsible for the administration of justice. They are constituted and governed by Scots law. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, a non-ministerial department of the Scottish Government, is responsible for the administration of the country's courts and tribunals systems.

The Court of Session is the supreme civil court and the High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court. The specialist system of Children's Hearings handles the majority of cases involving allegations of criminal conduct involving persons under 16.

The Court of the Lord Lyon is the heraldic court and the Scottish Land Court deals with agricultural and crofting issues.

Defunct courts include the Court of Exchequer and the Admiralty Court.

Background[edit]

Chart showing hierarchy with Supreme Courts at the top
Schematic of court system for Scotland

The United Kingdom does not have a single judicial system — England and Wales have one system, Scotland another, and Northern Ireland a third. The Military Court Service has jurisdiction over all members of the armed forces of the United Kingdom in relation to offences against military law. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom operates across all three separate jurisdictions, hearing some civil - but not criminal - appeals in Scottish cases, and determining certain devolution and human rights issues.

Civil Courts[edit]

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom[edit]

The Supreme Court was created on 1 October 2009 by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It is the highest civil court of appeal for Scotland. It hears appeals from all the civil courts of the United Kingdom, and the criminal courts of England and Wales and of Northern Ireland.

Until the creation of the Supreme Court, ultimate appeal lay to the House of Lords, a chamber of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (though in modern practice only the Law Lords sitting in the Appellate Committee, rather than the whole House, heard appeals).

On 1 October 2009 the Supreme Court took over the judicial functions of the House of Lords and the work and the devolution jurisdiction originally vested in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.[1][2]

Cases involving "devolution issues" arising under the Scotland Act 1998, such as disputes regarding the validity of Acts of the Scottish Parliament or executive functions of the Scottish Government, are heard by the Supreme Court. The cases may reach the Court as follows:

  • The Attorney-General or other Law Officers may refer a bill from the devolved body to the Supreme Court.
  • The litigants may appeal a case from certain superior courts.
  • Appellate courts may refer a case to the Supreme Court.
  • Any court, if a Law Officer so desires, may refer a case to the Supreme Court.
  • Law Officers may refer any issue not related to a bill or case to the Supreme Court.

Court of Session[edit]

Parliament Hall inside Parliament House, Edinburgh

The Court of Session is the supreme civil court. It is both a court of first instance and a court of appeal and sits exclusively in Parliament House in Edinburgh. The court of first instance is known as the Outer House, the court of appeal the Inner House.

Sheriff Appeal Court[edit]

The Sheriff Appeal Court is a national court with a jurisdiction over civil appeals from the Sheriff Courts, and replaces appeals previously made to the Sheriffs Principal.

The Sheriff Appeal Court is a national court with a jurisdiction over appeals summary criminal proceedings, and bail decision in solemn procedure, from the Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts.[3]

The Sheriff Appeal Court had its jurisdiction extended on 1 January 2016, by the Scottish Ministers through the commenced the provisions of the Court Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 to extended civil appeals to the Sheriff Appeal Court.[4]

Sheriff Personal Injury Court[edit]

The Sheriff Personal Injury Court has is a specialist all-Scotland court with exclusive competence to hear cases, with and without a jury, that relate to personal injury. The Personal Injury Court has concurrent jurisdiction with local sheriff courts, over claims relating to personal injury where the case is for a work-related accident claim in excess of £1,000, or where the total amount claimed is in excess of £5,000. The choice of local sheriff court or the Personal Injury Court is left to the pursuer. However, where a sheriff believes the case is so complex as to require the specialist expertise of the personal injury sheriffs they can remit the case to the Sheriff Personal Injury Court.[5]

In Scotland, all monetary claims for amounts not in excess of £100,000 are in the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff courts, with the Court of Session having concurrent jurisdiction for amounts of more than £100,000.[6]

The Personal Injury Court was established by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and the The All-Scotland Sheriff Court (Sheriff Personal Injury Court) Order 2015.[7][8]

Sheriff Court[edit]

The Sheriff Court is the other civil court; this sits locally. Although the Court of Session and Sheriff Courts have a largely co-extensive jurisdiction, with the choice of court being given in the first place to the pursuer (the claimant), the majority of difficult or high-value cases in Scotland are brought in the Court of Session.

Any final decision of a Sheriff may be appealed against. There is a right of appeal in civil cases to the Sheriff Appeal Court, and, with permission, to the Court of Session.

Criminal Courts[edit]

High Court of Justiciary[edit]

The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court.[citation needed]

The High Court is both a court of first instance and also a court of appeal. As a court of first instance, the High Court sits mainly in the former Sheriff Court buildings in the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh, in dedicated premises at the Saltmarket in Glasgow, and also sits from time to time in various other places in Scotland. As a court of appeal, it sits only in Edinburgh.[citation needed]

Appeals may be made to the High Court of Justiciary sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal from the lower courts in criminal cases. An appeal may also be made to the High Court if the High Court itself heard the case at first instance. Two judges sit to hear an appeal against sentence, and three judges sit to hear an appeal against conviction.[citation needed]

There is no further appeal from the High Court's decision on appeal, in contrast to the Court of Session, from which it is possible to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the highest court. Appeals under the Human Rights Act 1998 and devolution appeals under the Scotland Act 1998 are heard by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (previously these were head by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council).[citation needed]

Sheriff Appeal Court[edit]

The Sheriff Appeal Court is a national court with a jurisdiction over appeals summary criminal proceedings, and bail decision in solemn procedure, from the Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts.

The Sheriff Appeal Court was established on 22 September 2015 to deal with appeals against conviction and sentence in summary proceedings before the deal with criminal appeals. The Bench generally comprises three Appeal Sheriffs when considering appeals against conviction, and two appeal sheriffs when considering appeals against sentence. A single Appeal Sheriff hears appeals against bail decisions made by a sheriff or justices of the peace. The criminal Court is based at the courthouse at Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, and will initially sit on two consecutive days each fortnight. Substantive criminal appeals will be heard on Tuesdays and appeals against sentence on Wednesdays.[3][9]

Sheriff Court[edit]

an example of a sheriff court in Kirkcaldy

The Sheriff Court is the main criminal court; this sits locally. The procedure followed may either be solemn, where the Sheriff sits with a jury of 15; or summary, where the Sheriff sits alone. From 10 December 2007, the maximum penalty that may be imposed in summary cases is 12 months' imprisonment or a £10,000 fine, in solemn cases 5 years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine.[10]

A higher sentence in solemn cases may be imposed upon reference to the High Court of Justiciary.

Justice of the Peace Courts[edit]

The Justice of the Peace Court is a criminal court which sits locally under summary procedure, where the Justice sits alone or in some areas as a bench of three. Justices are lay magistrates who as advised by a legally qualified clerk, known as the legal adviser. The court handles a variety of minor common law crimes such as breach of the peace, theft and assault, as well as statutory offences such as vandalism, road traffic offences and other public order offences. The maximum penalty which can be imposed at this level is 60 days' imprisonment or a fine up to £2,500.

Special courts and tribunals[edit]

Scotland has several specialised courts and tribunals.

Tribunals[edit]

Tribunals sit in judgement over a number of specialist areas, and frequently have appeals tribunals above them. For example, the Employment Tribunals (appeals to Employment Appeals Tribunal), VAT Tribunals, Lands Tribunal for Scotland, etc.

In many cases there is a statutory right of appeal from a tribunal to a particular court or specially constituted appellate tribunal, for example Employment Tribunal cases are appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, which in turn allows appeals to the Court of Session. In the absence of a specific appeals court, the only remedy from a decision of a Tribunal is by judicial review in the Court of Session, which will often be more limited in scope than an appeal.

Children's Hearings[edit]

The specialist system of Children's Hearings handles the majority of cases involving allegations of criminal conduct involving persons under 16 in Scotland. These tribunals have wide-ranging powers to issue supervision orders for the person referred to them by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration. Serious crimes, at the direction of the Procurator Fiscal, are still dealt with in the usual criminal courts.

Court of the Lord Lyon[edit]

The Court of the Lord Lyon, the standing court of heraldry and genealogy, is responsible for civil and criminal enforcement of armorial bearings and the right to use certain titles. It is headed by the Lord Lyon, who is King of Arms and senior herald for Scotland.

Other courts[edit]

Historic courts and tribunals[edit]

Court of Exchequer[edit]

There was previously a Court of Exchequer in Scotland, which was established Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act 1707, pursuant to a requirement of the Act of Union 1707 which stated:

And that there be a Court of Exchequer in Scotland after the Union, for deciding Questions concerning the Revenues of Customs and Excises there, having the same power and authority in such cases, as the Court of Exchequer has in England And that the said Court of Exchequer in Scotland have power of passing Signatures, Gifts Tutories, and in other things as the Court of Exchequer in Scotland hath; And that the Court of Exchequer that now is in Scotland do remain, until a New Court of Exchequer be settled by the Parliament of Great Britain in Scotland after the Union;

— Article 16, Act of Union 1707[11]

The judges of the Court were the Barons of Exchequer who acted in both a judicial capacity, dealing with revenue cases, debts to the crown, seizure of smuggled goods and prosecutions for illicit brewing and distilling, and in an administrative capacity, mainly auditing accounts. The president of the Exchequer Court was known as the Chief Baron of Exchequer, and the initial president was the Lord High Treasurer. The 1707 Act limited the numbers of Barons to 5.[12][13]

A separate Exchequer Court was abolished by the Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act 1856, and all of its powers were transferred to the Court of Session. With its abolishment no further Barons of Exchequer were appointed.[14]

District Court[edit]

District Courts are no longer in existence. They were introduced in 1975 and sat in each local authority area under summary procedure only. The Scottish Government merged the management of the Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Courts (formerly known as District courts), retaining lay Justices. The Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 enabled the Scottish Ministers to replace District Courts by "Justice of the Peace Courts".[15] The process is concluded and all District Courts are now abolished and replaced with the new Justice of the Peace courts throughout Scotland, which have strengthened powers to allow more cases to be dealt with at this level.[citation needed]

High Court of Constabulary[edit]

The High Court of Constabulary was a court in Scotland presided over by the Lord High Constable of Scotland and other judges.

Established in the late 13th century the Court was empowered to judge all cases of rioting, disorder, bloodshed, and murder if such crimes occurred within four miles of the King of Scots, the King's Council, or the Parliament of Scotland. Following James VI's move to England, the jurisdiction of the Lord High Constable was defined in terms of the "resident place" appointed for the Council.[16][17]:128

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Part 3, Constitutional Reform Act 2005". Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. 4. 2005-03-24. p. 3. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  2. ^ Statutory Instrument 2009 No. 1604 The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (Commencement No. 11) Order 2009 (Coming into force 2009-10-01)
  3. ^ a b "Criminal Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC) – Questions and Answers" (PDF) (PDF). Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. 22 September 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  4. ^ Scottish Statutory Instrument 2015 No. 378 {{{title}}} (Coming into force 1 January 2016)
  5. ^ Stachura, Karen (25 June 2015). "Scottish Court Reform – What insurers need to know". www.bto.co.uk. BTO Solicitors LLP. Retrieved 9 April 2017. 
  6. ^ "Personal Injury Specialist Sheriffs Appointed | Media and Publications | Judiciary of Scotland". www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk. Judicial Office for Scotland. 22 September 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2017. 
  7. ^ "Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014". www.legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2017. 
  8. ^ Scottish Statutory Instrument 2015 No. 213 The All-Scotland Sheriff Court (Sheriff Personal Injury Court) Order 2015 (Coming into force 22 September 2015)
  9. ^ "Sheriff Appeal Court - Criminal". www.scotcourts.gov.uk. Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service. 22 September 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2017. 
  10. ^ Part III of the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007
  11. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Act of Union 1707 at Wikisource.
  12. ^ National Records of Scotland. "Exchequer Records". www.nrscotland.gov.uk. National Records of Scotalnd. 
  13. ^ UK Parliament. Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act, 1707 as amended (see also enacted form), from legislation.gov.uk.
  14. ^ "The whole power, authority, and jurisdiction at present belonging to the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, as at present constituted, shall be transferred to and vested in the Court of Session, and the Court of Session shall be also the Court of Exchequer in Scotland": UK Parliament. Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act 1856 as amended (see also enacted form), from legislation.gov.uk.
  15. ^ "The Scottish Ministers may by order establish courts of summary criminal jurisdiction to be known as justice of the peace courts." Scottish Parliament. Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 as amended (see also enacted form), from legislation.gov.uk.
  16. ^ "Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland - Chapter IV - Earldom and Earls of Erroll - Section II". www.electricscotland.com. Electric Scotland. Retrieved 22 April 2017. 
  17. ^ Hannay, R.K. (1932). "Observations on the Officers of the Scottish Parliament". Juridical Review. 44 (125): 125–138. 

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