Court of Session - Introduction

Take a virtual tour of the Court of Session.

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The Court of Session, Scotland's supreme civil court, sits in Parliament House in Edinburgh as a court of first instance and a court of appeal. An appeal lies to the House of Lords. The origins of the court can be traced to the early sixteenth century. The court presently consists of judges who are designated "Senators of the College of Justice" or "Lords of Council and Session". Each judge takes the courtesy title of "Lord" or "Lady" followed by their surname or a territorial title. The court is headed by the Lord President, the second in rank being the Lord Justice Clerk.

Charter Mark - Awarded for excellenceFor the purposes of hearing cases, the court is divided into the Outer House and the Inner House. The Outer House consists of 24 Lords Ordinary sitting alone or, in certain cases, with a civil jury. They hear cases at first instance on a wide range of civil matters, including cases based on delict (tort) and contract, commercial cases and judicial review. The judges cover a wide spectrum of work, but designated judges deal with intellectual property disputes. Special arrangements are made to deal with commercial cases.

The Inner House is in essence the appeal court, though it has a small range of first instance business. It is divided into the First and the Second Divisions, of equal authority, and presided over by the Lord President and the Lord Justice Clerk respectively. Judges are appointed to the Divisions by the Secretary of State after consulting the Lord President and Lord Justice Clerk. Each division is made up of five Judges, but the quorum is three. Due to pressure of business an Extra Division of three judges sits frequently nowadays. The Divisions hear cases on appeal from the Outer House, the Sheriff Court and certain tribunals and other bodies. On occasion, if a case is particularly important or difficult, or if it is necessary to overrule a previous binding authority, a larger court of five or more Judges may be convened.

Usually a case will be presented by an advocate, who is also referred to as "counsel", but a case may also be presented by a solicitor-advocate. Advocates are members of the Faculty of Advocates and have a status and function corresponding to that of a barrister in England. Advocates once had an exclusive right of audience in the Court of Session but, since 1990, they share that right with solicitor-advocates. Solicitor-advocates are members of the Law Society of Scotland. They are experienced solicitors who obtain an extension of their rights of audience by undergoing additional training in evidence and in the procedure of the Court of Session. In addition a practitioner from another member state of the European Union may appear for a client in the circumstances prescribed by the European Communities (Services of Lawyers) Order 1978. An individual who is a party to a case may conduct his own case but a firm or a company must always be represented by counsel or by a solicitor-advocate.

The decisions of the Court of Session are reported in Session Cases (cited as 1999 S.C. 100), Scots Law Times (cited as 1999 SLT 100) and Scottish Civil Law Reports (cited as 1999 SCLR 100). Decisions since the winter term of 1998 are available on the Opinions page of this site.