Scots Law - What is it?

Have you ever wondered whether Scottish law differs substantially from English law? And if so, to what extent? Read on to discover what Scottish Law entails.

  • Last updated Jun 19, 2019 5:54:09 PM
  • Sofia Gymer

“What? They have a different version of the law in Scotland?!”

Yes my friend, they do. But it’s not that alien really.

With all the hullabaloo following the election, further Scottish devolution and English votes for English laws, it seemed about time for us to define what Scots Law is and how it's different from English law. As, of course, all of you budding lawyers are curious about it – you curious cats, you.

What's so different about Scottish law?

Scottish law dates back from the 11th century, but there are only a couple of periods of development that matter. Let’s take a trip down history lane.

- Some of the civil law is influenced by the time when no such thing as the UK existed, and Scotland and England were entirely separate. At that time, the Scots looked to European courts, particularly those in France, to base their own laws on (French law was heavily based on Roman law).

- The Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Union of the Parliaments in 1703 saw Scots law be greatly influenced by English law.

- The Scots Act 1998 occurs. It is the most important piece of legislation regarding Scots law, as it defines the range of devolved powers given to the Scottish Parliament.

Nowadays, development in the principles and rules of Scottish law come from a combination of: English law, legislation from Westminster, legislation from the Scottish Parliament of Holyrood, the courts, European law and from academics.

A little more about the Scots Act 1998:

- Sets out the list of issues that can’t be legislated upon by the Scottish parliament are laid out, such as defence, immigration and foreign policy.

- Excluding this list, Holyrood may legislate upon all other issues, such as education and the environment.

- Any act which relates to matters reserved to the UK Parliament are incompatible with EU law or the European Convention on Human Rights will be ultra vires. Devolution issues are dealt with by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

What else?

The Scotland Act 2012 extended Scotland’s devolved powers. This will allow them to legislate on further issues but will only come into effect in 2016.

The Supreme Court, when dealing with Scottish appeals, binds all lower courts in Scotland.

EU law relates to Scots law in exactly the same manner as it does to English law.

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