Pleadable Brieves, Pleading and the Development of Scots Law

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Abstract / Description of output

Until recently there was a depressing consensus about Scottish legal history in the medieval and early modern periods. It was accepted that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Scots had gone some way to building a legal system on the model found in contemporary England, involving the holding of courts in the localities by sheriffs and justiciars on ayres, the use of royal writs or brieves to commence litigations, and the determination of cases by juries or assizes. The fullest account of Scottish law, Regiam Majestatem, was based on the twelfth century English text Glanvill. The wars and other skirmishes with England which began in 1296 and continued into the sixteenth century brought an end to the development of the ‘Scoto-Norman’law and legal system however. Cut off from its basic inspiration and lacking either a central court structure or a legal profession, Scots law regressed throughout the later middle ages. Demands for better justice led the king by the end of the fifteenth century to establish a group of royal councillors to hold judicial sessions or sittings at which such complaints might be heard. The councillors—the lords of council and session—might be either ecclesiastics or laymen; the former were more numerous and possessed greater legal skills. The procedure of the emerging court thus followed that of the ecclesiastical courts and the substantive law which developed was also canonical and civilian in character. By the mid-sixteenth century the Session was established as the main civil court in Scotland and Scots law had made a fresh start, severed from its original roots.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-22
Number of pages20
JournalLaw and History Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1986


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