The Supreme Courts Library

I had the pleasure of organising and attending a joint SWOP/ CILIP Government Information Group visit to the Supreme Courts Library at the end of last month.

Scotland’s Supreme Courts are based in Parliament House in Edinburgh.

The Supreme Courts are:

The Court of Session  – Scotland’s supreme civil court (a court of first instance and a court of appeal) The High Court of Justiciary- Scotland’s supreme criminal court The courts complex consists of 7or 8 buildings behind one façade.

Jennie Findlay who is the Librarian works for the Senators of the College, and the Supreme Courts staff. There are currently plans to introduce a similar level of library support for the Sheriff Courts.

Although there are currently 4 library locations for the courts there are almost a hundred locations for the book stock.

Our tour began in Parliament Hall, built in 1639 to house the Scottish Parliament. The design for the roof of the Scottish Parliament chamber takes its inspiration from  the hammer beam roof in Parliament Hall.

Although Parliament Hall belongs to the Courts Service everything in it belongs to the Advocates Library. As the Advocates don’t have their own offices they do most of their work in the Advocates Library. They can be seen consulting with their clients whilst walking up and down in Parliament Hall so as not to be overheard.

Jennie explained that in Scots law, an advocate, once qualified  (qualification as an advocate is known as being “called to the bar”), is entitled to allows them to address a court and the judge on behalf of their client, while a solicitor cannot speak to a judge directly. Therefore, to present a client’s case in the Supreme Court, a solicitor must engage an advocate to represent them in the court.

Dominating Parliament Hall is the Great South Window. It was installed in 1868 and consists of 8,000 pieces of stained glass covering 390 square feet. It celebrates the founding of the Court of Session in 1532.

We were taken into a 2nd division court and spoke to the clerk who explained this was where point of law were discussed and debates, with no jury.

There are 34 chambers for judges within the complex.

We saw the Laigh Hall where the Privy Council used to meet and where the Maiden (early form of guillotine) was kept. This is now in the National Museums of Scotland. A door from the Laigh Hall led straight out to the Lawnmarket where the executions would take place.

We were taken down to the old cells which were still in use up until 1872 and saw the cell where William Burke was thought to have been held. We were also taken to a small area in which was stored an empty coffin. There are several stories of who the coffin might have belonged to. Jennie hopes in her ‘spare time’ to undertake a more detailed history of some of the artefacts that are in the Supreme Courts complex, and which have also gone to other locations like the National Museum of Scotland. We passed through a building that was once the Sir William Forbes Bank in 1827-1830, with the teller’s window still evident and curved door which led to the safe (now the toilet).

Supreme Courts

We ended the tour in the library itself.

The Supreme Courts starting discussing the need for a library in 1984 and one was eventually created by 1990. It is accessible 24 hours a day. The Judges fill out book issue cards when they borrow items, and these cards are filed by the staff. As the library is currently moving to an online system, these book loans are also being entered on the online catalogue in preparation to loans being managed through the catalogue. Jennie is currently recataloguing her entire collection. She has issues with conservation and knowing the best ways of storing some of her more precious material. She also needs advice on disaster planning

Supreme Courts2

Fortunately there were colleagues from the National Records of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland on the tour and between these two organisations they hope to be able to share best practice and advice with Jennie. The Courts are moving to a digital materials management system for civil cases shortly, with no printed papers being used, and wifi being available for both staff and users of courts – this will no doubt bring about additional challenges for the library service.

This was an extremely interesting visit with so much history to absorb along with more modern dilemmas of how to run a multi-site library with minimum staffing and resources.

Supreme courts visit 3

Further information

Judges usually take a pay cut to take up this position, as they are paid less than an experienced senior advocate can earn. They are dedicated to the cause of justice, and the hold firm to the tenets of the judicial oath (“I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”)

The Judiciary of  Scotland website gives the salaries and system for appointment as a judge.

Main page:


Salaries, in descending order of seniority:

  • Lord President salary: £214,165
  • Lord Justice Clerk: £208, 926
  • Senator (Inner House): £198, 674
  • Senator (Outer House): £174, 481

Process of appointment of Lord President (with salary information):

Appointments handled by Judicial Apppointments Board for Scotland (JABS)

Volunteers are very welcome – a Standard Disclosure check (at a cost of £25 to the applicant) is required, due to the sensitive nature of materials volunteers will have access to.


The great south window: Parliament Hall, Edinburgh 1989.

Parliament House: a short history and guide by  the Hon. Lord Cullen. [Edinburgh] : Scottish Courts Administration, 1992.

Fiona Laing

SWOP Chair

CILIP GIG committee member





One thought on “The Supreme Courts Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s