Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Scottish Court service explains divorce records restrictions

On October 27th I blogged that there something was afoot with the Scottish divorce records, and the possible closure of records less than a hundred years old (see http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/closure-on-historic-scottish-divorce.html). In this post I noted that I had contacted the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service for clarification on this, and was awaiting confirmation from their end as to exactly what was closed, why, and what access was still possible in certain cases.

I followed this up with a further news announcement from the National Records of Scotland (www.nrscotland.gov.uk) on November 3rd, detailing some subsequent restrictions caused by the SCTS decision on the Register of Divorces at the ScotlandsPeople Centre (www.scotlandspeoplehub.gov.uk) from 1984 onwards, which notes Sheriff Court judgements from that period onwards (see http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/access-to-scottish-divorce-records-to.html).

True to their word, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service has now come back to me with an official response:

SCTS has decided that it is necessary to put a closure period on the records of historic divorce cases in the Scottish Courts. All divorce cases, that is Sheriff Court (post-1984) and Court of Session, are closed for 100 years from the date of the case. Divorce papers can contain additional personal data and the restriction is in place to avoid that material being made public inappropriately. The closure was implemented on data protection grounds because these records can contain information that could cause substantial distress to identifiable individuals if made public. This issue was brought into sharp focus by a particular case and for privacy reasons relating to the affected individuals we cannot enter into discussion about that case.

This restriction does not apply to the fact of the divorce, the date of the divorce, the court in question or the names of the persons divorced. That information is still available from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service or for Sheriff Court (post-1984) from NRS. The parties can get a copy of their divorce/dissolution extract by applying in writing to the court which granted the divorce/dissolution. 

Further information is available at:


Others who are not data subjects can make an application to SCTS for access to records under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. However, detailed sensitive personal data about living individuals (for example, child custody or access arrangements) is highly likely to be exempt under that Act. NRS will be updating their catalogues in due course.

The restriction will of course be a blow to those carrying out genealogical research, but it could have been much worse. It is still possible to note that a divorce took place within the last one hundred years, and to note to whom it related - the real genealogical restriction will be in noting any follow up concerning the children of such relationship breakdowns.

(With thanks to Chris Macrae, Media and Communications, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service)


For details on my genealogy guide books, including my recently released Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/p/my-books.html. My Pinterest account is at https://www.pinterest.com/chrismpaton/.

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