Roman Law

The Roman law that had the greatest influence on Scots law was that of the Eastern Roman Empire of the 6th century AD during the reign of Emperor Justinian, the first Christian emperor. The underlying driving force was the Catholic Church (the only major Christian religion at this time). The Church played a hugely powerful role in society. Morality lay at the heart of both religion and law, therefore the Church exerted its beliefs on the law relating to almost all activities of private life. Church law was known as cannon law, and the Church operated its own courts with an ultimate right of appeal to the papal Court of Rome, which of course applied Roman law.

For many centuries Scotland maintained stronger relations with Europe than with England, and Scots lawyers frequently received their legal education abroad, where they studied Roman law at Continental universities, particularly in France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. As a result they were influenced by studying Roman law in continental universities (Scotsmen were banned from Oxford and Cambridge Universities until the 19th century).

In the 1100’s the Catholic Church subsumed the Celtic religion and imposed its laws on the Scots people, who eventually established their own ancient universities where Roman law lay at the heart of the curriculum, e.g. St Andrews University (est.1410) Glasgow University (est. 1451) and two Universities in Aberdeen (est. 1495) (for hundreds of years Scotland, despite its small population, had more universities than England).

The Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme court, was established in 1532. In 1560 the Scottish Reformation finally broke away from the Church of Rome, and accordingly cannon law was abolished and its jurisdiction transferred to this new Court of Session.

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