Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Courts of Scotland
The United Kingdom does not have a single unified judicial system - England and Wales have one system, Scotland another, and Northern Ireland a third. There are exceptions to this rule, for example in immigration law, the Immigration Appellate Authority's jurisdiction covers the whole of the United Kingdom, while in employment law there is a single system of Employment Tribunals for England, Wales and Scotland (but not Northern Ireland).
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the highest civil court of appeal in England and Wales. In practice, only the Law Lords hear the appeals. It was abolished by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, but an election was held before the act came into force, and the new Parliament amended the act to preserve the House of Lords' judicial function.
Court of Session
The Sheriff Court is the other Scottish civil court; this sits locally. Although the Court of Session and Sheriff Courts have a largely co-extensive jurisdiction, with the choice of court being given in the first place to the pursuer (petitioner), the vast majority of difficult or high-value cases in Scotland are brought in the Court of Session.
Any final decision of a Sheriff may be appealed. There is a right of appeal in civil cases to the Sheriff Principal, and in most cases onwards to the Court of Session.
High Court of Justiciary
The High Court is both a court of first instance and also a court of appeal. As a court of first instance, the High Court sits mainly in Parliament House in Edinburgh, but also sits from time to time in various other places in Scotland. As a court of appeal, it sits only in Edinburgh.
Appeals may be made to the High Court of Justiciary sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal from the lower courts in criminal cases. An appeal may also be made to the High Court if the High Court itself heard the case at first instance. Two judges sit to hear an appeal against sentence, and three judges sit to hear an appeal against conviction.
There is no further appeal from the High Court's decision on appeal, in contrast to the Court of Session, from which it is possible to appeal to the House of Lords, the UK's highest court. However, appeals under the Human Rights Act 1998 and devolution appeals under the Scotland Act 1998 are heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The members of the Judicial Committee also sit in the House of Lords as the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.
The Sheriff Court is the main Scottish criminal court; this sits locally. The procedure followed may either be solemn, where the Sheriff sits with a Jury of 15, or summary, where the Sheriff sits alone. The maximum penalty which may be imposed is 3 months' imprisonment or a £5,000 fine (in summary cases) or 5 years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine (in solemn cases).
District Courts were introduced in 1975 and sit in each local authority area under summary procedure only. Each court comprises one or more Justices of the Peace (lay magistrates) who sit alone or in threes with a qualified legal assessor as convener or clerk of court. They handle cases of breach of the peace, drunkenness, minor assaults, petty theft, and offences under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. The Scottish Executive has recently announced its intention to unify the management of the Sheriff and District courts in Scotland, but retaining lay Justices. The maximum penalty which may be imposed is 60 days' imprisonment or a £2,500 fine.
Special courts and tribunals
In addition, there are other courts and tribunals. Tribunals sit in judgement over a number of specialist areas, and frequently have appeals tribunals above them. For example, the Employment Tribunals (appeals to Employment Appeals Tribunal), VAT Tribunals, Lands Tribunal, etc.
In many cases there is a statutory right of appeal from a tribunal to a particular court or specially constituted appellate tribunal, for example Employment Tribunal cases are appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, which in turn (in England) allows appeals to the Court of Session. In the absence of a specific appeals court, the only remedy from a decision of a Tribunal is a judicial review to the Court of Session, which will often be more limited in scope than an appeal.
Relationship with the European Court of Justice
Contrary to popular belief, there is no right to appeal at any stage in UK court proceedings to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Any court in the UK may refer a particular point of law relating to European Union law to the ECJ for determination. However, once the ECJ has given its interpretation, the case is referred back to the court that referred it. This is symptomatic of the fact that although the European Union is increasingly federal, there is no federal court system, just laws that must be interpreted the same way across all member states.
The decision to refer a question to the ECJ can be made by the court of its own initiative, or at the request of any of the parties before it. Where a question of European law is in doubt and there is no appeal from the decision of a court, it is required to refer the question to the ECJ; otherwise any referral is entirely at the discretion of the court.
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