National Records of Scotland
High Court of Justiciary
Information within this item is exempt under Section 38 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002: Personal Information. As such it will not be available for public consultation for 100 years. To request access to it whilst the exemption is current, please contact the NRS Freedom of Information Officer. For further details please look in the Freedom of Information (FOI) section of our website or ask a member of staff.
Annual transmissions of records from the High Court to the NRS take place when the records are at least 10 years old.
The High Court of Justiciary is Scotland's supreme criminal court. It has jurisdiction over the whole of Scotland and over all crimes, unless its jurisdiction is excluded by statute. It sits in cities and larger towns throughout Scotland except when acting as an appeal court, when it sits only in Edinburgh.
When hearing cases of first instance (ie cases being presented in court for the first time), the High Court deals with the most serious crimes such as murder, rape, culpable homicide, armed robbery, drug trafficking and serious sexual offences. It hears appeals from all the lower courts and against verdicts in its own trials. The Lord Advocate may refer a point of law which arises in the course of a case to the High Court for an opinion. This allows the High Court to give directions which set out the law for future similar cases.
Today, the High Court of Justiciary is headed by the Lord Justice General and the Lord Justice Clerk. Although the supreme civil and criminal courts of Scotland are separate institutions, the judiciary is common to both. The judges, or 'Senators of the College of Justice', who preside over the Court of Session as Lords of Council and Session are the same as those who try criminal cases in the High Court of Justiciary, where they are known as Lords Commissioners of Justiciary. Similarly, a single judge heads both supreme courts, being known as the 'Lord President' when acting as head of the Court of Session and as the 'Lord Justice General' when acting as head of the High Court.
Before 1672, there was no actual body called the High Court of Justiciary. Until that date, except for the short period under the Commonwealth (1652-1660) when they were replaced by the Commissioners for the Administration of Justice in Scotland, criminal cases were dealt with by the Lord Justice General (and latterly the Lord Justice Clerk, who has had judicial power since 1663) and his deputies sitting at Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland. In 1532, the College of Justice Act created a permanent paid body of judges, the 'Senators of the College of Justice', with what soon came to be a universal jurisdiction in all types of civil causes. These senators were known as the 'Lords of Session'. The Courts Act, 1672 created the High Court of Justiciary by joining the Lord Justice General and the Lord Justice Clerk with five of these Lords of Session.
LORD JUSTICE GENERAL
The office of Lord Justice General derives from the office of king's justice or justiciar, which dates from the 12th century and which is much older than the surviving justiciary records. Originally, the justiciar had both criminal and civil jurisdiction. His criminal jurisdiction developed from his principal early responsibility of holding court for cases called 'pleas of the crown' - wilful fireraising, rape, robbery and murder and later, treason. He also heard appeals from sheriff courts (known as 'falsing of dooms').
From the 14th century the kingdom was divided into two jurisdictions, each with their own justiciars, one north and one south of the Forth. These jurisdictions and offices were replaced in the 16th century by centralisation in Edinburgh under the Lord Justice General. From 1514 the office of Lord Justice General was held by the family of the earls of Argyll and at some point during this time it became hereditary. In 1628 they surrendered the office to the Crown, but retained the justiciarship of Argyll and the Scottish Isles (other than Orkney and Shetland) until 1748. From 1628 until 1836 the post of Lord Justice General was held under grant from the Crown by members of the Scottish nobility and his duties were normally performed by deputies. The Court of Session Act 1830 provided for the post of Lord Justice General to be held by the Lord President of the Court of Session and this has been the situation since 30 December 1836.
From earliest times, the Justiciar and his deputies travelled around Scotland in order to administer justice. This was known as going on circuit or 'justice ayres'. The Courts Act of 1672 provided for circuit courts to be held once a year in April or May. Two judges were to go to Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness (which became known as the Northern circuit), two to Dumfries and Jedburgh (the Southern circuit) and two to Stirling, Glasgow and Ayr (the Western circuit). Under Queen Anne a short-lived attempt was made to expand to two circuits in each year. This was re-established by the Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act of 1746. The same Act abolished the hereditary justiciarship of Argyll and the Isles, and cases from Argyll and Bute were to be held at Inveraray as part of the western circuit. By Act of Adjournal on 21 March 1748 the southern circuit was modified to sit at Ayr, Dumfries and Jedburgh and the western circuit to sit at Glasgow, Stirling and Inveraray. Provisions were gradually made for additional sittings of court, particularly at Glasgow, while on 18 May 1881, Dundee was added as a venue for the northern circuit, to deal with cases arising from the county of Angus.
CIRCUIT 1672 1748 1881
Northern Perth Perth Perth
Aberdeen Aberdeen Aberdeen
Inverness Inverness Inverness
Southern Dumfries Dumfries Dumfries
Jedburgh Jedburgh Jedburgh
Western Stirling Stirling Stirling
Glasgow Glasgow Glasgow
Ayr Inveraray Inveraray
The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act of 1887 empowered the Lord Advocate to requisition special sittings of the High Court at any time, either where circuits were usually held or in any other town most convenient for the trial of the crime committed. Under the same Act judges were not required to remain in a circuit town after business was disposed of, nor hold court at a circuit town when this was unnecessary; cases could also be transferred elsewhere in certain circumstances. Increasingly this has meant the holding of justiciary trials on an ad hoc basis throughout the year in any town which has a sheriff court, with only the vestiges of the circuit system remaining.
Although two judges were normally sent out on each circuit, the 1746 Act made it lawful for one to despatch business alone, and following the merger of the offices of Lord Justice General and Lord President at the end of 1836, the Lord Justice General was also able to despatch the business of any circuit without any other judge present (under the terms of the Court of Session Act 1830). The Justiciary Court (Scotland) Act, 1867 provided that the two judges sent on circuit might conduct trials contemporaneously in separate court rooms, and, particularly in Glasgow, this became common practice. The Act also gave legislative recognition to the practice whereby one of the judges at a circuit might proceed to the next town, open the court and despatch business, while the other remained in the last circuit town to complete business there.
Trials at Edinburgh normally proceeded before a single judge in the first instance, although more might sit in cases of difficulty, and there were some types of action which required to be heard by more than a single judge.
The Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746 gave the circuit courts the right to hear appeals from sheriff, burgh and barony courts. In 1926 the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act made provision for appeal on facts and law from proceedings on indictment in sheriff courts and from a single judge of the Court of Justiciary. Under the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act 1954 the court may review other proceedings though not acting in a full sense as a court of appeal. Normally three judges sit to hear appeals against conviction, and two to hear appeals against sentence More may sit to consider exceptionally difficult cases or points of legal importance. The High Court also hears appeals in cases referred to it by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was set up in 1999 under the terms of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
JC1 Court books, old series, 1493-1697
JC2 Books of Adjournal, old series, 1576-1699
JC3 Books of Adjournal, series D, 1699-1799
JC4 Books of Adjournal, series E, 1799-1899
JC5 Books of Adjournal, series F, 1899-1993
JC5A Books of Adjournal, Edinburgh, 1994-1995 (unbound)
JC6 High Court minute books, old series, 1577-1701
JC7 High Court minute books, series D, 1701-1799
JC8 High Court minute books, series E, 1799-1899
JC9 High Court minute books, series F, 1899-1988
JC9A High Court extra minute books, series F, 1926-1988
JC9B High Court second extra minute books, series F, 1976-1988
JC9C High Court third extra minute books, series F, 1980-1987
JC9D Not allocated
JC10 Circuit Court minute books, old series, 1602-1714
JC11 North Circuit minute books, 1708-1988
JC11A North Circuit extra minute books, 1868-1997
JC11B North Circuit second extra minute books, 1982-1988
JC12 South Circuit minute books, 1708-1988
JC12A South Circuit extra minute books, 1869-1985
JC13 West Circuit books, 1708-1988
JC13A West Circuit extra minute books, 1973-1987
JC13B West Circuit second extra minute books, 1982-1987
JC13C West Circuit third extra minute books, 1983-1989
JC13D West Circuit fourth extra minute books, 1983-1987
JC14 Glasgow Second Circuit (South Court) minute books, 1850-1988
JC14A Glasgow South extra minute books, 1976-1988
JC15 Circuit Books of Adjournal, 1890-1992
JC15A Books of Adjournal, Rest, 1993-1995 (unbound)
JC16 Dittay books, 1708-1711
JC17 Circuit dittay rolls, 1652-1733
JC18 Register of lawburrows, hornings and poindings, 1647-1853
JC19 Register of bonds of caution, 1536-1735
JC20 Signet minute books, 1703-1834
JC21 Records of treason trials, 1820-1821
JC22 Circuit appeals registers, 1748-1968
JC23 Lists of civil causes in circuit courts, 1748-1809
JC24 Remissions - warrants, 1682-1890
JC24A Remissions - warrants, 1890-1963
JC25 Petitions, 1753-1993
JC26 Processes, 1550-2008
JC27 Processes, supplementary, 1507-1839
JC28 Circuit appeals processes, 1806-1919
JC29 Justiciary appeals processes, 1710-1863
JC30 Justiciary appeals books, 1864-1991
JC31 Justiciary appeals processes, 1864-2003
JC32 Criminal appeals procedure books, 1926-1995
JC33 Criminal appeals minute books, 1927-1989
JC34 Criminal appeals processes, 1926-2003
JC35 Papers in appeals relating to the charge of being an habitual criminal, 1910-1923
JC36 Trial transcripts, 1888-1961
JC37 Minute Books of Diligences, 1848-1889
JC38 Civil War and Protectorate papers, 1638-1657
JC39 Records of actions against Convenanters, 1679-1688
JC40 Witchcraft papers, 1572-1709
JC41 Transportation papers, 1653-1855
JC42 Appointments and Commissions, 1547-1888
JC43 Oaths of Allegiance and Abjurance, c1660-1852
JC44 Papers leading to trial of Malcolm Nicolson, Clerk of Justiciary, 1886-1890
JC45 Productions, 1737-1892
JC46 Lists of freeholders and jurors, 1769-1824
JC47 Responde books and papers relating to fees, 1676-1894
JC48 Presscuttings, 1902-1982
JC49 Notes on Justiciary Court procedure, types of cases, and sentences, 1536-1920
JC50 Judicial styles, 1558-1892
JC51 Lists of accused and returns of prisoners, 1625-1832
JC52 Papers relating to prison administration in Scotland, 1817-1890
JC53 Miscellaneous administrative records, 1630-1954
JC54 Reports, accounts and returns on madhouses and lunatics in Scotland, 1816-1857
JC55 Papers relating to the rules and procedures of juvenile courts, 1932-1947
JC56 Stationery Office publications, correspondence and other papers relating to wartime emergency legislation, 1914-1920, 1939-1951
JC57 Papers relating to the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, 1949-1953
JC58 Borrowing and receipt books, 1711-1856
JC59 Staff files and other papers relating to the Clerks of Justiciary, 1661-1949
JC60 Diet books, 1537-1995
JC61 Papers relating to the estates of Hoddom and Castlemilk in Dumfriesshire, 1663-1804
JC62 Correspondence and papers addressed to Robert Galbraith, merchant burgess in Edinburgh, 1595-1596
JC63 Papers of John Anderson, 1665-1699
JC64 Papers of Joseph Norris, 1750-c1800
JC65 Papers of James Anderson, Clerk of Justiciary, 1721-1823
JC66 Miscellaneous papers, 1585-1838
JC67 Criminal appeals (supplementary series), 1926-1970
JC68 High Court minute books, Edinburgh, New Series, 1988-2010
JC69 High Court minute books, Rest, New Series, 1988-2006
JC70 High Court Opinions, 1935-1994
JC71 Printed Indictments, 1866-1987
JC72 Books of Adjournal: Edinburgh and Rest, 1996-2011
JC73 High Court indexes, 1888-2005
JC74 Punishment Part Tariff Hearing, 2002-2004
High Court of Justiciary
The Justiciary Court records for the years down to 1799 were transmitted to the Keeper of the Records in 1934. The records for the years 1800 to 1920 were transmitted in 1972 in terms of Statutory Instrument 1972 No. 227 (S.18) Registers and Records, Scotland. Act of Adjournal (Records of High Court of Justiciary) 1972.