What makes a case reportable in Session Cases?
The purpose of law reporting is to provide a record of judicial decisions in cases heard in the courts, in order that the legal principles identified in a court opinion can be accessed and understood by the reader and any legal principles or rules in that decision be applied as authority to support legal argument in subsequent cases.. That purpose remains today as it was in 1821 when Session Cases began its publication. There are 4 divisions of reported cases in Session Cases at present: reports of opinions in cases decided in the United Kingdom Supreme Court, the Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary and the Sheriff Appeal Court.
Session Cases traditionally reported all opinions from the House of Lords on Scottish matters and has reported every opinion given by the UK Supreme Court on Scottish matters since its inception.
In relation to civil opinions, as a general rule, all cases from the Inner House of the Court of Session (a Court of Appeal in Scotland) tend to be reported. Opinions from the Inner House can involve significant issues of legal principle and can be of considerable importance in the development of precedent. This is particularly so given the largely appellate function of the Inner House and given the fact that decisions from the higher courts are binding on the lower courts. Where, however, an Inner House case is largely fact-specific or doesn’t raise any significant point of law, the Editor will consider the value to users of Session Cases in reporting that case. It might be, for example, that the opinion turns upon the reasoning of the judge at first instance as to the facts and doesn’t raise any particular issue of novelty or legal principle. In such instances the case may not be selected for reporting.
The Outer House of the Court of Session is often a court of first instance where cases are considered initially. However opinions from the Outer House may be reported in Session Cases, particularly where those opinions involve an issue which might be seen as exceptional from a societal or legal point of view. A recent example of such an opinion is the Outer House decision in relation to the prorogation of Parliament prior to the United Kingdom notifying of its intention to leave the EU, because of the clear issues of constitutional importance the case raised.
As with civil cases, criminal cases will be reported where the opinion of the court elucidates principles of law which have value in establishing precedent, whether in relation to appeals against conviction or sentence, or appeals on decisions regarding preliminary issues prior to trial. Due to their relative rarity, Crown appeals against sentence tend to be reported. Typically, in giving opinion in such cases, the court will offer helpful statements of principle on the suitable ranges of disposal available to a sentencing judge in relation to particular types of offence, having set out its analysis of the competing arguments.
The legal principles inherent in the law are extracted and developed through judicial decision making, over many years. It is hoped that the process of law reporting enhances accessibility to, and improves understanding of, important decisions of the courts, in order that the law and its development can be appreciated and applied both by the legal profession and by the public at large, now and for the generations to follow.