Today’s Guest Blog is from Nellie Allen-Logan, an Intern who is on placement with our Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (EHAP) Service. Nellie is in the final year of a Law Degree at Arizona Summit University, and we asked her to reflect on her experience of the civil legal system in Scotland compared with ‘back home’ …
Even though it was in the middle of winter when I arrived in Scotland from sunny Arizona, my shock did not come from the weather, but from the vast differences in law. The United States (U.S.) brought their common law from England through the Magna Carta. However, Scotland does not follow English law, but Roman law. Their common law is an ancient set of rules that are not written down, but govern by word of mouth. Common law in the U.S. follows old English law (which for the U.S. is only a few hundred years old). Scottish common law goes back centuries to the time of Roman occupation and the general laws that citizens would follow. These ancient ways are still used today even though there is no binding legislation. One similarity that I have observed is the U.S. has state and federal governments, and here in Scotland, it is comparable to Scotland and the United Kingdom. Certain rights in the U.S. are divested to the states, and some to the federal government. This is similar here in Scotland, where Scotland maintains certain powers within its parliament as compared to the United Kingdom parliament.
In the U.S., every person that represents another person in a court of law, must be an attorney that has had a legal education and passed the state bar exam for the state they wish to practice in. On the other hand, Scotland allows lay representation in sheriff’s court for certain issues and amounts of money. A lay representative usually has a certain amount of experience and training so that they are competent when presenting a case in court. As a law student, I found this to be a bit of a challenge, but one I accepted with vitality. I was determined to learn Scottish laws and be able to represent persons in court as soon as I could. I was successful in my first court calling, and ensured that I was prepared for any situation that the pursuer or sheriff may present.
One vast difference is the comparison of Sheriff’s court to Municipal court (city court) in the U.S. Even though Sheriff’s court is not as formal as high court, it still is full of tradition. Each representative or solicitor must bow to the seal upon exiting the court room. All solicitors wear robes, and the Sheriff usually wears a wig and robe. Additionally, the Sheriff is referred to as my lady or my lord. In the U.S., generally, judges (as they are referred to) are the only ones to wear robes, and they do not wear wigs. All attorneys usually wear a nice dress suit and no robes, and there is no bowing upon exiting the court.
I have noticed that Scotland is extremely generous with their welfare benefits and ensure that their citizens are well taken care of. In the U.S. welfare benefits are not as generous and generally, can be difficult to obtain. The idea of advice agencies is immensely charitable, especially when citizens of Scotland are not able to obtain the benefits they need, or are unaware of the benefits they should be receiving. In the U.S., usually, there are no agencies to give advice, but merely a place where the people can make claims. If a claim is denied, it is up to the person to figure out how to appeal the decision on their own. Here in Scotland, the government ensures that there are advice agencies to assist people with obtaining the advice they need to obtain benefits.
This has been an immensely eye opening experience for me regarding the legal field. To be able to go to another country and completely immerse myself in a new legal system has shown where the U.S. could improve, and these are ideas that I will take with me.