Scotland - Law and Criminal Justice

Law and Criminal Justice

Scots law has a basis derived from Roman law, combining features of both uncodified civil law, dating back to the Corpus Juris Civilis, and common law with medieval sources. The terms of the Treaty of Union with England in 1707 guaranteed the continued existence of a separate legal system in Scotland from that of England and Wales. Prior to 1611, there were several regional law systems in Scotland, most notably Udal law in Orkney and Shetland, based on old Norse law. Various other systems derived from common Celtic or Brehon laws survived in the Highlands until the 1800s.

Scots law provides for three types of courts responsible for the administration of justice: civil, criminal and heraldic. The supreme civil court is the Court of Session, although civil appeals can be taken to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (or before 1 October 2009, the House of Lords). The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court in Scotland. The Court of Session is housed at Parliament House, in Edinburgh, which was the home of the pre-Union Parliament of Scotland with the High Court of Justiciary and the Supreme Court of Appeal currently located at the Lawnmarket. The sheriff court is the main criminal and civil court, hearing most of the cases. There are 49 sheriff courts throughout the country. District courts were introduced in 1975 for minor offences and small claims. The Court of the Lord Lyon regulates heraldry.

For many decades the Scots legal system was unique for a period in being the only legal system without a parliament. This ended with the advent of the Scottish Parliament, which legislates for Scotland. Many features within the system have been preserved. Within criminal law, the Scots legal system is unique in having three possible verdicts: "guilty", "not guilty" and "not proven". Both "not guilty" and "not proven" result in an acquittal with no possibility of retrial. Many laws differ between Scotland and the rest of Britain, whereas many terms differ. Manslaughter, in England and Wales, becomes culpable homicide in Scotland, and arson becomes wilful fireraising. Procedure also differs. Scots juries consist of fifteen, not twelve jurors, as is more common in English-speaking countries.

The civil legal system has however attracted much recent criticism from a senior Scottish Judge who referred to it as being "Victorian" and antiquated. The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) manages the prisons in Scotland, which collectively house over 8,500 prisoners. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice is responsible for the Scottish Prison Service within the Scottish Government.

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