Every summer, a team of NRS archivists visits Sheriff Courts all over Scotland to collect historical records for preservation and storage.
Case records must be retained for decades after the cases finish for future appeals, cold case reviews and police enquiries, so it’s vital they are kept safe and secure. Centuries from now, these cases will provide an insight for research and understanding of Scottish law, culture and society.
Between May and August each year, our Court & Legal Team visits up to six of Scotland’s 39 Sheriff Courts to collect records that are 25 years old or over. This isn’t a glamorous process as the records must be removed box-by-box, and they’re stored in attics, basements, turrets and other hard-to-access places.
We regularly collect old cases from the Sheriff Courts at Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland’s busiest courts, and visit the others intermittently. Last year, we visited Glasgow, Peterhead, Jedburgh & Duns, Dunfermline, Ayr and Lanark.
Once we’ve retrieved the old cases, our Conservation staff examine them to identify potential problems that might need treatment before preservation, such as damp, mildew or pest infestation.
We then sort the cases and decide which records should be preserved and which can be destroyed, in line with the Scottish Court & Tribunal Service retention schedule. This process is called “Weeding”.
With the assistance of five legal students, we weed out the records which have no historical, evidential or informational value. We employ legal students because their knowledge helps us to select any processes which show a change in legal procedure or a legal precedent.
However, all registers are kept so there is a record of every case heard in the Sheriff Court. Also all Fatal Accident Inquiries, adoptions, deeds and criminal papers are kept. The other civil records are stripped down by about 80% for storage in archival-grade boxes for future generations of Scots to examine.
We enjoy the opportunity to get out of the office every summer and have experienced some lovely places including Ayr seafront, Dornoch beach on a gloriously sunny day, Jedburgh’s courthouse and jail and – of course! – bacon rolls at the Horn Milk Bar between Dundee and Perth!
Jennifer Homewood, SCTS/NRS National Sheriff Court Records Survey