This section provides you with an overview of the courts in Scotland.
Organisation of justice – judicial systems
The UK has three jurisdictions: England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Administration of the courts
In Scotland, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) is responsible for the administration of the courts. SCTS is an independent body corporate, chaired by the Lord President, the most senior judge in Scotland.
Types and hierarchy of courts – short description of the main courts
The organisation of the various courts in Scotland is as follows:
Procedure in the criminal courts is divided into ‘solemn’ (the most serious cases involving trial by jury) and ‘summary’ (less serious cases heard by a single judge).
The High Court of Justiciary is headed by the Lord Justice General, who is also the Lord President. This is the country’s supreme criminal court, which handles the most serious cases, such as murder or rape. It also acts as the final criminal appeal court.
The criminal Sheriff Appeal Court hears appeals against summary criminal proceedings from both the Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Courts, and also hears appeals against all bail decisions made by a Sheriff or Justice of the Peace.
The majority of criminal cases, both solemn and summary, are handled by the Sheriff Court and less serious summary cases are handled by the Justice of the Peace Court. The latter is made up of justices of the peace (who are lay justices and sit with a legally qualified adviser).
The two main civil courts in Scotland are the Court of Session and the Sheriff Court (including the civil Sheriff Appeal Court and the all-Scotland Personal Injury Court). The civil courts hear cases on a range of matters resolving disputes, including the recovery of debts, family actions and commerce.
The Court of Session is the supreme civil court in Scotland. It has an outer house, which deals with cases initially before any appeal, and an inner house, which deals mainly with appeals. The principal judge is the Lord President.
Points of law can be appealed to the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, with leave of either the Court of Session or Supreme Court.
The Sheriff Courts can deal with cases similar to those raised in the Court of Session, but also provide simplified procedures for cases up to the value of £5000, where the assistance of legal representatives is not required. Actions over £5000 and up to £100,000 must be raised in the Sheriff Courts.
The civil Sheriff Appeal Court has provision to have a single or triple appeal Sheriff bench presiding over civil appeals.
More detailed information about courts in Scotland can be found on the website of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
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Last update: 30/04/2019