Scottish courts and the law
Scottish courts and the law

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Scottish courts and the law

1 Change and the justice system

There have been a number of changes within the legal system over the past few years. Some have been aimed at making the process of bringing a case more streamlined and accessible utilising technological advances. Others have been targeted around cost reduction and promoting greater efficiency, for example digitised case management systems and fee increases. Further changes with the development of artificial intelligence and the possibility of using algorithms to create systems for managing aspects of specialised practice such as conveyancing are being discussed. These all have an impact on the work of lawyers, the courts and the role played by the justice system in society. In Scotland the justice system is seen as key to achieving a flourishing society which leads the way in the protection of rights and the resolution of disputes.

Our vision is of a justice system that helps Scotland flourish, creates an inclusive and respectful society where all people live in safety and security, where individual and collective rights are supported and disputes are resolved fairly and swiftly.

Upholding the law and protecting society are essential to help people lead productive lives in safe and secure communities and contribute to a flourishing economy in Scotland.

(Scottish Government, n.d.)

You should now watch the following two videos. In the first Scott Manson reflects on the role of justice and the law in Scotland, in the second Craig McKerracher reflects on law and its role in society.

Download this video clip.Video player: Justice, law and society in Scotland
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Transcript: Justice, law and society in Scotland

'Justice must be seen to be done' is still a principle that is important. I would suggest it is more important today because we have now an enshrined system of human rights law in Scotland and have had done since around 1998, 1999. And that requires as part of that body of law that justice is not only done but seen to be done.
But we have always had open courts in Scotland. It's only in very particular circumstances that the doors of the court will be closed. That is when particularly difficult evidence is being given, say of a sexual nature or evidence involving children and so on, or occasionally in terrorism cases where there are security concerns.
But openness is extremely important, and court judgements, important and sometimes unimportant, are published online. So anybody has access to the judgments of the court, applying the law, and deciding on cases that have been argued. And increasingly, cameras are being allowed into court when sentencing is being affected, but only focusing on the judge.
And there is still a debate going on as to whether we should have televised legal proceedings. Different people have different views about that. But I would suggest that justice generally can be seen to be done in Scotland, and that is an important principle that is respected.
Law plays an extremely important role in society because law reflects society, and then society has to reflect the law. So the law adapts to changing attitudes and problems and issues that arise in society, and then society has to react to whatever laws are made that regulate what goes on.
So if a particular event happens, there is usually a clamour for an inquiry. There is usually an expectation that lawmakers in Parliament will change the law to do something about it. And often, lawyers hold their heads in their hands when that happens because law isn't always the answer to things. Many situations arise where we have perfectly satisfactory laws that could be used to address particular problems, but politicians want to be seen to be doing things and then make more law. And we end up with more complicated situations than we had before.
We have a system of law right to the top of the chain that regulates government, that regulates what the prime minister is allowed to do and not allowed to do. We saw that recently in relation to the questions over Britain leaving the European Union, when it was the courts that had to say that as a matter of law-- as a matter of constitutional law in this country-- Parliament had to make the decision to sever ties with the European Union and not the prime minister.
So parking tickets, the decision to leave the European Union, and everything in between, the law touches upon and regulates.
End transcript: Justice, law and society in Scotland
Justice, law and society in Scotland
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Download this video clip.Video player: Reflections on law and its role in society
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Transcript: Reflections on law and its role in society

Openness and accessibility to the legal system in Scotland is still very important. Access to justice is a very big issue, particularly with recent press coverage around cuts in legal aid. There are quite a lot of people out there who quite simply wouldn't be able to afford access to solicitors without the support of legal aid.
So openness and accessibility is very, very important. There has to be a number of different routes available to people that can ensure that, if you like, they get their day in court, that they get the chance to be heard And if ultimately the court agrees with them, then great. But the fact that they should be able to put their case forward and put their position forward is definitely very important.
Quite a lot of times now in media there is a lot of scrutiny around the courts, around judges and decision making, particularly around high-profile criminal cases. If the sentence isn't sufficiently long enough, people feel that justice is not being done. If there is a sufficiently harsh sentence, then people see that as the right call.
Law permeates every aspect of society, so yes there is criminal law to ensure that people who commit wrongs are suitably punished. But every other aspect of society is regulated by law. So you go and buy something out of a shop, it's governed by terms and conditions. So there's a contract there. You've also got the Sale of Goods Act, which is a statutory provision which protects you in relation to the purchasing of those goods. If you want to go to university, there will be a contract you would sign with the university agreeing to adhere to a code of conduct.
Every aspect of society is covered by law. What it does is it allows us to go about our day-to-day lives. And as long as the law is complied with, then there will be no issue. If it's not complied with, then the law enforcement agencies and the courts are there to ensure that there are solutions in order to deal with any breach of law.
End transcript: Reflections on law and its role in society
Reflections on law and its role in society
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Having worked your way through this course you should now be more familiar with both the civil and criminal justice systems in Scotland. In Activity 1 you will have the opportunity to reflect on what you have learnt.

Images associated with the legal system

Figure 1 Judges
Figure 2 Prison
Bute House, Edinburgh
Figure 3 Bute House, Edinburgh
Front magazine titled Digital Justice Scotland. Back magazine titled Holyrood
Figure 4 Digital justice in Scotland

Activity 1 Thoughts about the legal justice system

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Reflect on your studies of this course and note down your own thoughts and perceptions as to what the justice system may look like in the future and the challenges it faces. Have these changed as a result of your studies?

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There have been a number of changes within the legal system over the past few years. Some of these have been aimed at making the process more streamlined and accessible, for example, new simplified procedures (Simple Procedure). Other such as the reduction in legal aid, case management systems and fee increases have been targeted at reducing costs in the system and efficiency in the process of obtaining justice.


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