For the most serious criminal cases two groups of records usually
survive. Firstly there are the precognitions, written reports of
statements given by witnesses and frequently the accused, prepared
by the Crown (as prosecutor) which are contained among the records
of the Lord Advocates Department (NAS refs. AD14 and AD15).
Secondly, there are the records of the High Court itself, the primary
sources to consult being the minute books, which summarise trial
proceedings, and the process or case papers (NAS ref. JC26). Cataloguing
of the early 19th century case papers is not yet complete, but staff
in the NAS are working to fill the gaps.
This extensive cataloguing work has now made it easy to search
for the trials between the years 1800-1930 online. The trial records
themselves can be viewed only by visiting the NAS Historical Search
Room or West Search Room in Edinburgh.
Find out more about the content of trials
in our guide
to crime and criminals.
This guide tells you how to:
the online catalogue for
sense of the results
3. View the documents
if you don't find the trial you are looking for
Searching the online catalogue
You can search for the records of a trial in the NAS online catalogue,
but before doing so you should read the guidance below.
Searching for criminals
When searching for an accused person, it is best to narrow your search
to the relevant record group by typing 'AD14', 'AD15'or 'JC26' as
a reference in the Reference field of the search page. For example,
if you were looking for the trial of John Donaldson, you would enter
'John Donaldson' in the Any Text field, and 'AD14' for 19th century
precognitions, 'AD15' for 20th century precognitions, or 'JC26' for
the case papers in the Reference field. If the trial date is known,
a year date in the Date field may also be added, as shown below:
If you simply wish to search for a particular type of crime, then
you would enter the term 'murder', 'theft' or 'housebreaking' in the
Any Text field. Please note that terms such as 'burglary', 'manslaughter',
'assault and battery'or 'arson'will produce no results, as these are
not recognised criminal forms of indictment under Scots Law. The Scottish
equivalents are 'housebreaking', 'culpable homicide', 'assault to
the injury of the person' and 'wilful fire-rising'. Find
out the meaning of some Scots legal terms in our guide
to legal terms and offences libelled.
Searching for crimes
If you simply wish to search for a victim of crime, then you would
search under the name of the victim as with the accused person search.
Please note that information about victims remains incomplete, but
staff in the NAS are working to fill the gaps.
Searching for victims
A typical example of an online catalogue entry for a High Court criminal
trial appears below.
Making sense of the results
When you click on the link called Details a more detailed description
of the item will appear:
Below is an explanation of each part of the catalogue entry.
CountryCode and RepCode
These are the identifying codes (ARCHON codes) for the National Archives
of Scotland. They are not required when ordering documents.
This is the reference number of a specific trial or Crown Office precognition
to quote when you wish to see the papers in the NAS search rooms.
This gives the name of the accused; the crime(s) with which they were
charged; and the place of trial. The information has been obtained
from the court minute books and case papers. Where a trial shifts
to another court, the details will be recorded within the information
about the accused.
This is the date of first appearance of the accused at court. It may
vary from the final sentencing date, particularly if the case lasted
for several days, or was postponed to a later court sitting.
This contains details about the accused including forename; surname;
alias; crime accused; place of crime (though not in every case); verdict,
and any comments on the verdict; court sentence and term, e.g. Transportation
10 years; previous convictions, where known; and any notes
or interesting facts identified, either about the accused (the pannel)
or the case, e.g. 'Pannel cannot write' or 'Speaks only Gaelic'.
This contains details about the victims of the crimes committed, but
the information is far from complete and NAS staff are working to
fill the gaps. For more serious offences such as murder or culpable
homicide, victim details have been abstracted in most cases. For reasons
relating to Data Protection or confidentiality, victim details have
been deliberately excluded for cases less than 100 years old. The
last trial date containing victim information is for the year 1905.
The access status of the precognitions and trials to the year 1930
is 'open', which means that they are not affected by closure rules
relating to Data Protection or confidentiality.
This contains references to related record material such as precognitions
(in the case of JC26 papers) or case papers (in the case of the precognitions).
Precognition information gives much fuller personal information about
the accused as shown in the equivalent AD14 entry for 'John Donaldson'.
The information may vary depending on the detail given within the
Clicking on the 'Details' link will give you this page:
A database, known as the Solemn Database, exists as a separate
search tool in the West Search Room. All the data within it are included
in the online catalogue on this website. For more information about
images of trial documents linked to this database see the paragraph
on Viewing the documents, which is below.
All AD14, AD15 precognitions and JC26 trial papers may be seen in
the West Search Room.
Viewing the documents
Some trial minute books for the 19th century have been digitised,
and these images may be seen without charge using our Solemn Database.
The database permits structured searches to be undertaken using
additional search terms, and provides a direct link to images of
those volumes which have been digitised. They are linked to the
Virtual Volumes resource in the West Search Room, but are not available
online. For more information about the precognitions, trial papers
and minute book images, and ordering copies contact the West Search
Room. If you intend to visit in person, read advice about obtaining
ticket and visiting the NAS
If you don't find the trial you are looking for
Many precognitions and trial papers did not survive, therefore searching
under the above parameters may fail to glean any results. This could
be either because the papers have not survived, or the case papers
(JC26) have yet to be catalogued or indexed. Years which are currently
catalogued in full are 1800, 1833-37, 1840-1930.
However, all trials from 1800 have been indexed using the minute
books. As part of a cross-check, it is therefore worthwhile searching
under the name of the accused and the minute book series reference.
The minute book series references are JC8, JC9, JC11, JC12 and JC13.
Any trial, which has neither surviving precognition nor case papers
will be linked to its relevant minute book entry to ensure that
the details of the case are not lost to researchers. Search by entering
the name of the accused in the 'Any Text' field, and the series
reference of the minute book in the 'RefNo' field, e.g. 'JC8'.
Clicking on the 'Search' button should show this page:
When you click on the 'Details' link for JC8/20 you will see this
Such searching will frequently identify individuals who 'Failed
to appear for Assize', i.e. jurors who failed to attend for jury
selection, and who were fined by the court for their non-attendance.
Some Scots legal
terms such as 'assize' are explained in our guide
to legal terms and offences libelled.
If you still cannot find your trial, it may be that it was brought
before an inferior court, in particular the sheriff courts, whose
criminal records have not been catalogued in detail. For more advice
on this go to our guide on crime
The National Archives of Scotland
Crown Copyright 2006