Open access Scottish law reports

Session Cases, published by the Scottish Council of Law Reporting, are the nearest thing Scotland has to an “official” law reports series. Uniquely in Scotland they are prepared by practising advocates (barristers) whilst the judges have the opportunity to revise the reports of their cases before they are published. The Practice Notes (Practice Directions) of the Court of Session and of the High Court of Justiciary require that Session Cases are cited in preference to all other sources.

Session Cases are published by the Scottish Council of Law Reporting, a charity. Published since 1821, first as nominate reports and latterly as just Session Cases, the reports cover the appellate decisions of the Court of Session and of the High Court of Justiciary (the final court of appeal for Scottish criminal law cases). The series also covers Scottish cases heard in the House of Lords and the Privy Council and a number of cases heard at first instance in the Court of Session.

Cases are selected for report in Session Cases if they have precedential value; because they raise a significant point of law of general application or because they explain or clarify existing law.

As is well known Scotland’s independent legal system is protected by the 1707 Act of Union with England and it represents one of the more interesting jurisdictions in the world where Common Law principles are applied in the context of a civil law tradition. So Session Cases are a fascinating resource providing contrasting interpretations of UK statutes and a body of case law with a different emphasis to that elsewhere. For example, one 2008 case, Moncrieff v Jamieson 2008 SC (HL) 1, dealt with the servitude (easement) of car parking and as a House of Lords case has precedential value far outwith the Scottish jurisdiction. Few of the readers of this piece will need reminding of the ramifications of that most famous case Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 SC (HL) 31.

One of the Scottish Council of Law Reporting’s objects is to enhance education. To this end for the past few years it has made a CD-ROM available, through the Scottish universities, to all students studying law. The CD contains full text law reports of cases selected by law teachers as being particularly helpful in support of their studies. The CD is produced with assistance from Justis whose award-winning search software runs across this archive of law reports. The CD-ROM is updated each year (and the software expires some 15 months after each edition of the CD is published).

For 2008, again in association with Justis, the Council have developed their free resources further. With the launch of a new website the Council has provided a fully searchable database of the opinions (judgments) of the Scottish courts in over 650 cases from its archives dating back to 1879. Whilst not reproducing the full case report as published in Session Cases this archive, again running on Justis search software and with the full utility of JustCite, is a free resource which should assist law students and legal researchers throughout the world. I encourage you to look at and see for yourself.

Anthony Kinahan is Secretary to the Scottish Council of Law Reporting.