Last updated on 24/06/24

Did you know that in Scotland judges are not referred to as “judges”? Scots civil litigation differs from that in England and Wales and so does civil procedure terminology. Focusing on Scots civil procedure, in this article I share a brief overview of the different judges sitting at Scottish civil courts following a hierarchical structure.

At the Court of Session

The Court of Session is the supreme civil court in Scotland. Sitting in Parliament House, Edinburgh, it is divided into the Outer House (normally dealing with civil cases at first instance) and the Inner House (made up of two permanent divisions dealing mostly with civil appeals). The judges sitting in the supreme courts of Scotland are also appointed senators of the College of Justice.

Lord President

The Lord President is Scotland’s most senior judge and the head of the Scottish judiciary. In his capacity as Lord President, he presides the Court of Session and chairs the First Division of the Inner House. Moreover, in his capacity as Lord Justice General of Scotland, he presides the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s supreme criminal court.

Lord Justice Clerk

As Scotland’s second most senior judge, the Lord Justice Clerk can act as a depute for the Lord President. She chairs the Second Division of the Inner House.

Lords Ordinary

Lords Ordinary are individual judges sitting alone in the Outer House of the Court of Session to hear cases at first instance.


Curiosity: while civil cases at first instance are heard by a single judge (a Lord Ordinary) in the Outer House, civil appeals are heard by three (or more) judges in the Inner House.

At the Sheriff Appeal Court

The Sheriff Appeal Court hears appeals in civil cases from decisions of the local sheriff courts. It is presided over by a sheriff principal.

Appeal sheriffs

The sheriffs (judges) of the Sheriff Appeal Court are known as “appeal sheriffs”. The Court normally sits as three judges in Edinburgh, although in some circumstances, it can sit as a single judge in the court where the appeal has arisen.

At sheriff courts

In Scotland, there are six sheriffdoms (sheriff court regions), each having a series of sheriff courts to deal with most criminal and civil cases at first instance.

Sheriffs principal

There is a total of six sheriff principals, one per sheriffdom. They do not hear cases at first instance but appeals in the Sheriff Appeal Court (and appeals in summary criminal cases). Sheriff principals are responsible for all business and all sheriffs within the sheriffdom.

Sheriffs (full-time and part-time)

Sheriffs are judges hearing cases at first instance in sheriff courts. They can normally hear all types of cases but sometimes they are appointed as specialists to hear particular types of cases. Part-time sheriffs cover for permanent sheriffs who are away or unavailable.

Certain designated sheriffs from the Sheriffdom of Lothian and Borders sit as personal injury specialist sheriffs in the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court (ASSPIC).

Summary sheriffs

Summary sheriffs sit in sheriff courts but have a restricted jurisdiction in the cases they can hear, which include simple procedure claims and nearly all family actions (involving divorce, adoption, separation, maintenance of children, and more).

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The information included in this article is correct at the time of publication/last update. This article is for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk. ICR Translations will not be liable for any loss or damage arising from loss of data or profits as a result of, or in connection with, the use of this website.

Irene Corchado Resmella, a Spanish translator based in Edinburgh. English-Spanish sworn translator appointed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chartered Linguist and member of the CIOL. As a legal translator, I focus on Private Client law, specialising in Wills and Succession across three jurisdictions (England & Wales, Spain, and Scotland). Affiliate member of STEP. ICR Translations is registered with the ICO and has professional indemnity insurance.

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