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Scottish courts and the law
Scottish courts and the law

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1.3.1 The role of an Inner House Judge

An Inner House Judge writes:

‘Judges from other jurisdictions often find it odd that in Scotland we hear both civil and criminal cases, sitting as Senators of the College of Justice and Lords Commissioners of Justiciary respectively. Given the variety of work involved, it also means that there is really no such thing as a typical day in the life of a judge in Scotland’s supreme courts.

As a judge in the Inner House of the Court of Session, I hear mostly appeals from the court’s Outer House and the sheriff court. Every day effectively begins the night before, when the bag service delivers case papers and other business matters to judges’ homes, allowing time to prepare for the day ahead.

Although well briefed on the day’s cases, I catch the bus early enough to arrive at Parliament House in Edinburgh at least an hour before court business starts at 10am, which allows me to pick up any messages or emails in my chambers. In court, I usually sit with two other judges to deal with a wide range of civil appeals. A week might involve two or three contractual and commercial disputes, or a couple of appeals from the employment appeal tribunal and a judicial review. Alternatively, a single case could last the whole week, or even longer. Some of the work might seem a bit dry and dusty, but it is hugely important for those involved, for instance, in personal injury cases.

Occasionally, a case will be settled before the hearing, freeing up some time to catch up on writing judgments from the many notes I’ve taken in my red notebook. The database that allows us to cross-reference with previous judgments has revolutionized our work. However, it is likely I will have to do some writing at home in the evenings or on Mondays, when the court doesn’t normally sit. Equally, Mondays can be taken up with meetings or performing other public service responsibilities. It is also a good time to look after my own affairs, such as visiting the doctor or dentist, which is otherwise very difficult to fit in.

For every week hearing civil cases, I could spend two or three weeks in the Lawnmarket court building dealing with appeals against sentence and conviction in criminal cases from the High Court of Justiciary and the lower courts. Again, this generally involves sitting with two other judges. Appeals against conviction might last a number of days, whereas up to 15 appeals against sentence could be dealt with in a morning and afternoon. In both types of case, the trial judge will have prepared a report that summarises the evidence. As criminal work involves very serious cases, often with terrible consequences, it can be all-consuming.

The Court of Session in particular has changed beyond recognition since I started. Originally, cases involved mostly personal injury, divorce or planning disputes but there has been a real growth in public law in recent years. Perhaps people were more accepting of authority in the past. Now citizens are far more likely to seek a resolution in the courts.’

(Judicial Office for Scotland, n.d.)