Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

The Supreme Courts of Scotland excluding extensions onto Cowgate at southeast of site, 2-11 Parliament Square, EdinburghLB27699

Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Group Category Details
100000019 - See Notes
Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 25753 73530
325753, 673530


Robert Reid, 1803-10 and 1827-38 additions and alterations; further alteration, mainly internal, including William Burn, 1827-29, William Nixon, 1844, William Thomas Oldrieve, 1906-07 and later 20th century extensions (see below). Imposing, 3-storey, 31-bay, symmetrical, wide approximately U-plan, Classical complex of justiciary buildings with large central advanced 5-bay pedimented hexastyle portico. Situated on sloping site and falling to 8 storeys to south (Cowgate). (Extensions onto Cowgate at southeast of site not considered of special interest in listing terms). Ashlar with chamfered, rusticated round-arched continuous covered arcade to ground floor, coursed rubble to rear. Base course, impost course, band course, cill courses. Deep cornice and balustraded parapet with by decorative panels inset, some surmounted by stone sphinxes. 1st floor windows with moulded architraves and consoled cornices; some pedimented; plain 2nd floor windows

Predominantly 12-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows to north elevation. Various roof shapes, some piended, some flat. Grey slates.

The interiors of this building (apart from Parliament Hall – see separate listing) date mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, although the courtrooms are all largely 19th and early 20th century. High quality well-detailed timberwork and plasterwork are evident throughout. The interiors of the early 19th century courtrooms are classical in style; courtroom 9 (the Oak Court) and adjacent library, dating from the early 20th century, are Renaissance Revival in style.

Statement of Special Interest

A Group with Advocates Library; Signet Library; Parliament Hall; 1 Parliament Square; St Giles High Kirk; Charles II Statue; Lothian Chambers; Alexander and Bucephalus Statue; Queensberry Memorial; City Chambers; and the Market Cross.

The Supreme Courts of Scotland building with its complex of courtrooms and related offices which date largely from the 19th century is without parallel in Scotland and of national importance. The exterior of the building and some surviving interior spaces were designed by Robert Reid, one of Scotland's foremost architects in the early 19th century with alterations by the prolific William Burn and further work by Office of Works architects during the later 19th and early 20th centuries. It has significant streetscape presence in the heart of the Old Town of Edinburgh. It is a vital component of the suite of law-related buildings in this part of the Old Town and an excellent example of the classical architecture of Enlightenment Edinburgh. Its external appearance and its footprint are largely unaltered since the 1820s and internally the outstanding quality of the details in the courtrooms, circulation spaces and ancillary offices reinforce its importance.

Although in some respects the exterior and the court interiors within this building bear comparison with those elsewhere in Scotland, as a whole this is a unique building, because of its complicated evolution and the fact that it houses the the Court of Session, the sole supreme civil court.

Originally this complex was more akin to the old tolbooth type of building where judicial and legislative functions were under one roof. Parliament Hall, around which the complex is centred, is an important surviving 17th century building (see separate listing) and its history is important for the development of the Supreme Courts. Parliament Hall originally combined the function of Parliamentary meeting place, Court of Session and Privy Council and, in due course, town hall. The Court of Session, which was divided into the Outer and the Inner House, was accommodated within the building. The Outer House heard cases in the main space of Parliament Hall while the Inner House was accommodated in a jamb of the building. Alongside Parliament Hall, the Scottish Treasury and Exchequer offices were added to the east in the mid-17th century with tenements and shops enclosing what is now Parliament Square.

The early 19th century saw a series of changes responding to the changing needs of the judicial system. A new Exchequer Court was built and in 1808, when the Inner house was split into two divisions, the new courtroom for the Second Division was created to the west of Parliament Hall. At the same time the whole complex was given an overall unified classical façade on the north side. Two courtrooms for Lords Ordinary were added south of Parliament Hall in 1818-20 and a tenement property east of the Exchequer Court was bought for further accommodation.

A number of changes followed the fire of 1824 and fears of further fires meant that land and property to the west, south and east (including Sir William Forbes' Bank which was rebuilt to the southeast) was acquired.Expansion on the newly acquired land began in 1827.By 1830 the east range, the Court of Exchequer, was complete and by 1838 the south range built providing a Justiciary Court and replacing the 17th century Inner Court (in the jamb of the original L plan building) with two new Inner House courts. The Lords Ordinary finally moved out of Parliament Hall in 1844 when four new courtrooms were built on the site of the 1818-20 courts. The bank building of 1827-29 on the east of the site was incorporated into the courts in 1881-6.In 1907-09 the Outer House Courts due south of Parliament Hall were remodelled and extended.

The plan of the building is a result of many changes and is not part of an early scheme. The principal access routes, the Box Corridor (containing the papers of the advocates) running north and south and the East-West Corridor at right angles to it must date in outline from the early 19th century, although the present form of the Box Corridor dates from 1907.

The development of the court house as a building type in Scotland follows the history of the Scottish legal system and wider government reforms. The majority of purpose-built court houses were constructed in the 19th century, however, prior to this time burgh judicial functions were commonly housed in a single building, such as the tolbooth or town hall. By the 19th century there was an increase in the separation of civic, administrative and penal functions into separate civic and institutional buildings, and the resultant surge of public building was promoted by new institutional bodies. The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act of 1833 significantly altered local government in Scotland and marked the beginning of democratically-elected councils and led to stricter financial control of Scottish burghs. Acts of Parliament in 1819 and 1839 laid down directions for the financing of court houses; however it was the introduction of the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860 which gave a major impetus to the increase and improvement of accommodation provided for the dispensation of civil and criminal justice. The provision of central funding was followed by the most active period of sheriff court house construction in the history of the Scottish legal system and many new court houses were built or reworked after this date.

Robert Reid (1774-1856) designed the exterior of the building largely as we see it today and some interior spaces from his hand still survive (in particular Courts 1, 2 and 3). Robert Reid (1774-1856) was the principal government architect in Scotland in the first half of the 19th century. This was his first commission as a public architect and in 1808 on the strength of this, the title of 'King's Architect and Surveyor in Scotland' was conferred on him. In his Parliament Square facades, Reid was strongly influenced by the style of the Adam brothers, in particular their unexecuted designs for the quadrants at Old College of Edinburgh University. After the fire of 1824 which destroyed part of the south range and the tenements at the east side of the square, Reid extended the design, creating a central portico on the new eastern section, mirroring the portico on the west, creating a harmonious whole. Within this section Courts 1, 2 and 3 were built in a severe neo-classical style with arched windows, high compartmented ceilings and pew-like benches with the judges' bench arranged on a traditional curved plan. Court 3 has direct access to cells below.

William Burn (1789-1870) the eminent country house and public building architect was responsible for the eastern section of the building, originally constructed as Sir William Forbes' Bank in 1827-30. The telling room was converted to a Jury Court (now Court 4) in 1885 by the Office of Works architect Walter Wood Robertson (1845-1907) who retained a number of interior elements. The bench is framed by coupled Corinthian columns. The finely detailed coved ceiling is enhanced with pendants and elaborate plasterwork.

To the south of Parliament Hall are courtrooms 13 and 14 which are plain and austere but little altered and were designed by William Nixon in the 1840s. Nixon (1804-1848) was Chief Architect in the Office of Works from 1840 to 1848. Further south is Court 9, known as the Oak Court, and the adjacent Oak Library which were rebuilt in 1907-09 in the Renaissance revival in style by William Thomas Oldrieve (1853-1922). Oldrieve was an assistant in the Office of Works from about 1881, working in the offices in Edinburgh, Manchester and London before being appointed Principal Architect in Scotland in 1904 and bringing with him considerable experience in public building design. The Oak Court has finely detailed timber panelled walls with recessed judges' bench and coved celing with central cupola.

The extensions onto the Cowgate at the southeast of the site are not considered of special interest in listing terms at the time of the review (2014-15).

Statutory address and listed building record revised as part of the Scottish Court Listing Review 2014-2015. Previously listed as '2-11 Parliament Square, The Supreme Courts of Scotland'.



Ordnance Survey (Surveyed 1852, published 1854) Edinburgh, Sheet 35. Large Scale Town Plan. 1st edition London: Ordnance Survey.

Gifford, J., McWilliam, C. and Walker, D. (1984) The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh. London: Penguin Books Ltd. pp.118-125.

Cullen, W. D., Lord. (1992) Parliament House: a Short History and Guide. Edinburgh: Scottish Courts Administration.

Glendinning, M. (2004) The Architecture of Scottish Government: from Kingship to Parliamentary Democracy. Dundee: Dundee University Press. pp.82-169.

Colvin, H. (2008) A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840. 4th edition. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, William Thomas Oldrieve at [accessed 10 September 2014].

Scottish Courts website: [accessed 10 September 2014].

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

Find out more about listing and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at


The Supreme Courts of Scotland, north elevation, looking southwest, during daytime on a clear day.
Interior of Oak Courtroom, The Supreme Courts of Scotland.

Printed: 19/08/2022 18:39