Scottish Courts

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

The highest domestic court of appeal in most cases since 1 October 2009, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom was created by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, effectively replacing the House of Lords as the highest court. It is a court of appeal in civil cases referred from the Scottish courts, but not in criminal cases. It also rules on devolution issues (formerly the Privy Council performed this function).

Click here to link to a list of the Supreme Court Judges.

College of Justice

The judges who make up the College of Justice may preside over the Court of Session or the High Court. Perhaps rather confusingly, the it is sometimes also called the Supreme Court, although it is a separate from (an indeed subordinate to) the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Click here to link to a list of the Judges of the College of Justice.

Court of Session

 The Court of Session is the highest civil court on Scottish territory. Its Outer House hears cases at first instance, while its Inner House hears appeals. It sits permanently in Parliament House in Edinburgh as shown below. Click the picture for a virtual tour of the court.

The High Court of Justiciary

The High Court is the highest criminal court. It is a court of first instance and appeal, and is sometimes also called the Court of Criminal Appeal. There is no further right of appeal except under the Human Rights Act 1998, wherepon the case may be reffered to the Supreme Court of the UK. Unlike the Court of Session, the High Court is a circuit court and often convenes in sheriff court houses.

Sentencing Powers

Unlimited fine

Unlimited prison sentence

Upper Tribunal

The Upper Tribunal (aka the Administrative Appeals Chamber) is a UK-wide court that hears appeals and applications for permission to appeal from the First-Tier Tribunal as well as from certain other decision-making bodies and, in England nd Wales, certain forms of Judicial Review, Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals, and cases remitted from the High Court.

The Upper Tribunal is the creation of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which effectively establishes creates a new, unified tribunal structure for the UK, with a First-Tier Tribunal to hear cases at first instance and the Upper Tribunal to hear appeals. The Tribunals are divided into several ‘Chambers’, each dealing with a specific area of law. For a list of the huge number of tribunals whose functions have been (or will be) transferred to the First-Tier Tribunal, click here.

Appeal from the Upper Tribunal lies to the Court of Session in Scotland (or to the Court of Appeal in England and Wales). 

The Upper Tribunal is led by the Senior President of Tribunals, currently  Lord Justice Carnwath, while each Chamber has a Chamber President.

Sheriff Court

A Sheriff is a form of judge in Scotland. The Sheriff Court is a form of local court which hears civil and criminal cases. There are 50 such courts grouped into Sheriffdoms of which there are six, each presiding over a certain geographical jurisdiction:- (1) Lothian & Borders, (2) Glasgow & Strathkelvin, (3) North Strathclyde, (4) South Strathclyde, Dumfires & Galloway, (5) Grampian, Highland and Islands, and (6) Tayside, Central & Fife. The Sheriffdom of Glasgow & Strathkelvin alone has only one single court, being Glasgow Sheriff Court, Europe’s busiest court.

Each Sheriffdom is presided over by a Sheriff Principal, who oversees the Sheriffs sitting there. The Sheriff Principal also hears civil appeals, but not criminal appeals, which may only be referred to the High Court. Click the picture to view a plan of the layout of a typical court room.

The Sheriff Court presides over various kinds of case.

Civil Cases

Ordinary Causes

Financial actions worth over £5,000, divorces, personal injury cases etc.

Summary Causes

Financial actions worth between £3,000-£5,000, evictions etc.

Small Claims

Financial actions worth up to £3,000. Summary Causes and Small Claims are often heard in the same session in what is sometimes called debtors’ court.

Fatal Accident Inquiries

In Scotland the sheriff performs the function of coroner in FAI’s raised by the Procurator Fiscal.

Adults with Incapacity Applications

Applications by families of mentally ill persons for intervention orders, welfare guardianship orders etc.

Summary Applications

For example, applications in respect of certain licensing matters.

Commissary Cases

Matters relating to the winding up of deceased persons’ estates.

Criminal Cases

Solemn Cases

Serious crimes tried on indictment before a jury of twelve men and women, e.g. serious assault, fraud and attempted rape.

Sentencing Powers

Max fine, unlimited

Max imprisonment , 5 years (unless restricted by statute)

Summary Cases

Criminal offences tried on complaint by the sheriff alone without a jury.

Sentencing Powers

Common Law

Max fine, £10,000

Max imprisonment, 12 months


Offences triable on summary complaint or indictment (“either way offences”)

Max imprisonment, 12 months

(although higher penalties may be provided for by statute)

Offences triable on summary complaint only

Max imprisonment, 3 /12 months for non-list / list offences

District Court

The Distict Court is a form of local court presided over by a bench of lay  justices of the peace or a legally qualified  stipendiary magistrate. Tthe court only tries minor criminal offences. It is similar to the Magistrate’s Court in England and Wales.

Sentencing Powers

 Justice of the Peace      

Max fine, £2,500

Max imprisonment, 60 days

(Scottish Ministers retain power to increase to 6 months)

Stipendiary Magistrate

Same powers as Sheriff in Summary Procedure

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