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High Court of Justiciary

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Judge term length
ad vitam aut culpam


Number of positions

High Court of Justiciary

Parliament House, Edinburgh

Composition method
Appointed by the Scottish Government known as the Scottish Ministers as a corporation sole, as provided for under the provisions of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 (2008 a.s.p. c. 6), following the advice and recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland

Authorized by
Act of Parliament of Scotland

Decisions are appealed to
1. European Court of Justice (ECJ) of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), with the permission of the High Court of Justiciary and also of the United Kingdom Supreme Court (UKSC), or 2. European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), or both

1 Mart St, Glasgow G1 5JT, UK

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The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court in Scotland.


The High Court is both a court of first instance and a court of appeal. As a court of first instance, the High Court sits mainly in Parliament House, or in the former Sheriff Court building, in Edinburgh, or in its own court buildings in Glasgow and Aberdeen. However it sometimes sits in various smaller towns in Scotland, when it borrows the local Sheriff Court building. As a court of appeal, it sits only in Edinburgh.

The High Court of Justiciary has also sat once outside Scotland, at Zeist in the Netherlands during the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, as the Scottish Court in the Netherlands.

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The individuals who sit in the High Court often hold a seat simultaneously in Scotland's civil court system.

The judges of the High Court are the same ones who sit in the Court of Session, Scotland's supreme civil court. The Court of Session's Lord President is also the High Court's Lord Justice General. The Lord Justice Clerk holds his or her office in both courts. The remaining judges are referred to as Lords Commissioners of Justiciary in the context of the High Court, and Lords of Council and Session or Senators of the College of Justice in the context of the Court of Session.

First instance jurisdiction

When sitting as a court of first instance, that is, when hearing a case for the first time rather than on appeal, a single Lord Commissioner of Justiciary usually presides (although two or more judges may sit in important or difficult cases) with a jury of fifteen individuals. Under the Scottish legal system, the jury need not return a unanimous verdict; a majority verdict may also be used. The Scottish legal system also permits a verdict of 'not proven' as well as verdicts of 'guilty' or 'not guilty'.

The High Court has jurisdiction over all crimes in Scotland unless restricted by statute. In practice, however, the High Court generally deals with crimes, such as murder and rape, in which it has exclusive jurisdiction, as well as other serious crimes.

Appellate jurisdiction

Appeals may be made to the High Court of Justiciary sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal from the lower courts in criminal cases. An appeal may also be made to the High Court if the High Court itself heard the case at first instance. Two judges sit to hear an appeal against sentence, and three judges sit to hear an appeal against conviction.

In the most exceptional of circumstances, an appeal may be made to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), subject to an application for permission from both the High Court of Justiciary and also from the United Kingdom Supreme Court (UKSC) being granted, or to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), or both.

In other exceptional circumstances, a person may petition the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, who have the authority to refer an appeal back to the High Court of Justiciary, if they determine that a miscarriage of justice has or might have occurred.

History and founding

The High Court was founded in 1672, but its origins derive from the College of Justice, as well as from the medieval royal courts and barony courts. The medieval Justiciar (royal judge) took its name from the justices who originally travelled around Scotland hearing cases on circuit or 'ayre'. From 1524, the Justiciar or a deputy was required to have a "permanent base" in Edinburgh, and as such the College of Justice was established in Edinburgh in 1532.


High Court of Justiciary Wikipedia