Court of Session Records
Court of Session Records
The Court of Session is Scotland's supreme civil court and National Records of Scotland (NRS) holds records of the court from the 16th century onwards.
Please note that although Court of Session record groups are normally freely open to public access, those dating after 1915 are currently (October 2017) subject to a temporary re-closure pending a sensitivity review. Before visiting our search rooms please contact staff for more information.
If you are visiting us to research Court of Sessions (CS) records, you may wish to print out our guides, familiarise yourself with them, and refer to them during your visit. Start with this first guide, which acts as an introduction for inexperienced searchers.
The other guides deal with different types of Court of Session records:
Catalogues and finding aids
When searching for processes, you will normally have to look up:
- Our online electronic catalogue
- Card indexes
- Indexes in volumes
Unextracted processes (UPs) and extracted processes (EPs)
The distinction between the unextrcated and extracted processes is simply stated:
- Extracted Processes are those in which a decree or ‘decreet’ of the Lords of Council and Session has had to be formally copied or "extracted" from the record of the action to act as a warrant to implement the terms of that decree. The decree was copied into the Register of Acts and Decreets and the papers in that case preserved as an "extracted process".
- Unextracted Processes consist of other actions in which final decisions were not extracted. UPs are not necessarily actions which were dropped or otherwise left unconcluded.
Normally you will not know in advance if the process for which you are searching is extracted or unextracted, so be prepared to look for UPs and EPs.
Sometimes an unextracted process was 'borrowed up' by law agents or court officials in connection with a later action (not necessarily involving the same parties). If so, it could be merged into that later process, or returned under a later reference in another transmission year. Alternatively, actions could be conjoined, that is, united, because two or more actions touched essentially on the same problem. Therefore, even if you know the names of the parties you could search the UP indexes in vain at what should be the right point.
Cases before 1660
The guides for UP and EP processes are concerned with cases after 1660. Before 1660 the Court finding aids consist of:
- General minute books, noting all the cases before the Court of Session (CS8)
- Particular minute books, noting cases dealt with by a particular office
The offices are named after the clerks who held posts in them:
- Before 1650: Scott, Gibson and Hay (CS9, 10 & 11)
- 1650-1659: Brown, Downie, Ward (CS12, 13 & 14)
Some of these minute books are damaged and therefore incomplete, so you should check both the general and particular ones. They are arranged chronologically and, under each date, list each legal action by the surnames of the opposing parties. The general minute books also supply the name of the relevant office, while the particular minute books will also tell you what happened to the action in the court on that day. If there are no surviving minute books, you have no choice but to read the volumes of the Acts and Decrees (CS7).
Checklist for ordinary actions after 1660
For sequestrations see the sequestrations guide.
1. Do you have the names of both parties to the action?
Yes: go to Question 2
No: go to the Court's general minute books to confirm the names. (See below for information on the minute books)
2. Did the action take place before 1913?
Yes: first check the main UP index
No: first check the relevant post-1913 UP index
3. If you have confirmed the names of pursuer and defender, and the UP indexes have not supplied the process number, go to the appropriate EP index
4. You may also want to check the Carmichael and Elliot processes
5. If all this fails, you can check other sources
General minute books (CS16 & 17)
These two series can prove very helpful in tracing actions when little information is known, and are crucial when searching for EPs before 1810
The Court's general minute books of daily business run from 1661 to 1835 in manuscript, and from 1782 to 1990 in print.
Only bare details about each action are given in the volumes. Further, the volumes do not record every step in an action (which would include lodging of papers by the parties' agents), but concentrate on occasions when the matter was brought directly to the attention of the Lords of Council and Session for some decision to be made.
The CS catalogue lists all the minute books, which can be ordered out in the usual way.
Minute books, 1661-1835 (CS16)
More difficult to use are the manuscript minute books (CS16), which are all lengthy and lack indexes. Although you may have to use the series when tracing a pre-1782 action, normally you would only use it as a last resort.
Minute books, 1782-1990 (CS17/1)
The printed series (CS17/1) is often an essential tool. From 1782 to 1807 the volumes are strictly annual, and from 1808 they cover cases from November of one year to October the next.
Note that the general minute books do not include Bill Chamber and Jury Court actions, which have their own minute books.
Example: A sample entry from the minute book is shown below.
There is an index of pursuers and defenders, usually by surname only. Unfortunately, the indexes are not comprehensive, at least in the early years of this series: you may find 3 entries in the index for the name Dickson, but there could be other entries relating to actions involving persons of that surname which are not indexed. However, as long as you are able to find at least one entry which names fully the pursuers and defenders, you can use these names to search process lists and indexes. Handy searching tip to save time: if you know both the pursuer's and defender's surnames, you can check the index under both names to establish a coincidence of page numbers.
Note that the full designations of parties are given: very helpful when confirming an entry. Each entry opens with an initial or two, denoting the type of procedure:
|P.R.||Protestation and Remit|
|A C.||Act and Commision|
|A.C.D.||Act and Commision and Diligence|
|A.W.||Act and Warrant|
|p. (before the lawyer's name)||per|
|L. (befoe the Lord Ordinary's name)||Lord|
Note the clerk’s marks which are essential when locating a process. Each office had the services of various clerks, each of whom had his own ‘mark’, consisting of two or three letters. Once an action began, the same clerk was responsible for it during its proceedings. On his retirement or if he died his successor in office would take on the action, so no other record series needs to be checked. If a decree were extracted, the clerk would put this work through his office, in whose registers the decree was recorded.
You will see in the sample shown above there are a set of initials mid-column, in this case ‘O.M.K.’. This is the clerk's mark. The mark is placed over the first article and not repeated in any other article where the clerk is the same. Having got the mark, you now need to establish the office: either Dalrymple, Durie or Mackenzie. Look on the open shelves for a slim typescript volume entitled Court of Session Clerks' Marks 1695-1860. It is arranged alphabetically. You find that O.M.K. was the mark of a clerk in Mackenzie’s office, and it is here that his EPs will be found.
Contents of Court of Session card index drawers in General Register House search room
Cabinets nearest the stairs, from left to right:
- CS241 1878-1911
- CS242-250 1772-1912 combined with
- CS251-252* 1913-1934 and
- CS311* 18th-19th cents
* Denotes series covered by the online catalogue
Cabinets near the Archivist’s desk, clockwise, from immediately to your left:
- CS30 and 228-250 – the main UP index:
1st series 1660s-1780s blue labels on drawers (includes CS30)
2nd series 1780s-1829 red labels on drawers
3rd series 1830-1869 yellow labels on drawers
4th series 1870-1912 green labels on drawers
- CS97 separate index