Judicial Independence

What is it and why is it so important?

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The independence of the judiciary is the cornerstone of a democratic society and a safeguard for the freedom and rights of the citizen under the rule of law. It means that judges should be free to make impartial decisions based solely on fact and law, without interference, pressure or influence from the state. In Scotland, the principle was emphasised as long ago as 1599   when the Lord President of the Court of Session declared that the judges were independent of the king, “sworn to do justice according to our conscience”.

 Judicial independence is protected in several ways:

  • freedom from interference, influence or pressure from the  State through separation from government and parliament, which may be involved in disputes heard by the judge;
  • restrictions on removal from office – for instance, a full-time, salaried judge can only be removed before retiring at 70 if unfit for office because of inability, neglect of duty or misbehaviour; and
  • immunity from being sued or prosecuted for work carried out as a judge.

 To uphold their independence, judges should act with impartiality and integrity. When they are sworn in, judges take 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 and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 enshrined judicial independence in law. It introduced a duty on Scottish ministers, the Lord Advocate and MSPs to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary, barring them from trying to exert influence through any special access to judges.  Read more

Taking of evidence of a vulnerable witness by a commissioner

Friday, 31 March, 2017

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, has introduced new guidelines on the way evidence is taken on commission from children and vulnerable witnesses.

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Faculty of Advocates Brexit Conference

Friday, 10 March, 2017

The Lord President, Lord Carloway, has given a speech at the Faculty of Advocates Brexit Conference.

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SYLA Annual Lecture 2016

Friday, 4 November, 2016

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, has given a speech entitled ‘The 21st Century Court’ at the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association Annual Lecture, on 27 October 2016.

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Opening of the Legal Year 2016-2017

Tuesday, 27 September, 2016

The Lord President, Lord Carloway, has given an address to mark the opening of the new legal year.

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The role of the court in ensuring access to justice: two themes

Thursday, 14 April, 2016

14 April 2016 Lord Carloway, the Lord President of the Court of Session, has given a keynote speech to the World Bar Conference in Edinburgh.

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Related FAQs

Q.Why don’t judges speak to the media or give interviews after cases?

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