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Scottish courts and the law
Scottish courts and the law

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1.4 The UK Supreme Court

The highest appeal court in civil matters is not shown in Figure 2. Appeals can be made from the Court of Session to the UK Supreme Court. This is a UK wide court which has the powers to hear certain appeals from courts in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. To appeal to the UK Supreme Court, a Scottish appellant (person making the appeal) needs to obtain permission to appeal from the Court of Session. If this is refused then in certain cases the UK Supreme Court can grant permission.

The UK Supreme Court also hears cases that involve devolution issues. It can hear cases which consider whether the Scottish government (as a devolved executive) and Scottish Parliament (as the legislative in Scotland) are acting within their powers (this includes questions as to whether they are acting within their powers and responsibilities as set out in the Scotland Act 1998 as amended, whether they are acting in compliance with the ECHR). It can also hear cases which consider whether they have failed to fulfil their duties. While such cases are rare, they have far-reaching significance.

Devolution cases can reach the UK Supreme Court in three ways:

  • through a reference from someone who can exercise relevant statutory powers such as the Advocate General, whether or not the issue is the subject of litigation
  • through an appeal from certain higher courts in Scotland
  • through a reference from certain appellate courts.

Scotland’s distinctive tradition of criminal law and procedure means that the final appeal court in criminal matters is the High Court of Justiciary. However, there is one exception to this rule as the UK Supreme Court can consider Scottish criminal cases where a ‘devolution issues’ arises. The UK Supreme Court cannot however review any other decisions of the High Court of Justiciary.

If you wish to know more about the UK Supreme Court’s role you will find more information in these documents:

The following video explores the role of the Supreme Court.

Download this video clip.Video player: What is the Supreme Court
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What is the Supreme Court
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