Although currently empowered under the Scottish Land Court Act 1993, the Court was originally constituted on 1st April 1912 as a result of the passing of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act 1911. Prior to that, the Crofters Commission had been set up by the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886. That Act was introduced following the report of the Napier Commission to Parliament in 1884. The Napier Commission’s remit was “to enquire into the condition of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and all matters affecting the same or relating thereto.” The Commission concluded that the era of the notorious “clearances” of the previous hundred years had caused “some restraint, resistance and distress.”
The main causes for complaint were identified as
- size of holdings;
- lack of security of tenure;
- lack of compensation for tenant’s improvements;
- high rents;
- loss of land to sporting purposes.
The 1886 Act introduced a new form of land tenure based on the principles of
- security of tenure;
- a fair rent;
- compensation for permanent improvements at the termination of a tenancy.
The new Act was confined to the crofting counties of Argyll, Inverness, Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland and only applied to holdings which were held on a yearly tenancy and whose annual rent did not exceed £30.
The effect of the 1911 Act was to extend the 1886 Act to the whole of Scotland and to replace the Crofting Commission with the Land Court. All agricultural tenants in Scotland who were already crofters or whose holdings on 1st April 1912 did not exceed £50 in rent or 50 acres in extent and who were resident on or within two miles of their holdings became landholders.
The Small Landholders and Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1931 provided that matters relating to farms of all kinds, which could until then only be dealt with by arbitration, might be brought before the Land Court. This empowered the Land Court to determine disputes arising out of every type of agricultural tenancy, irrespective of the size or location of the holding.
The Court’s jurisdiction under the Small Landholders Acts was changed by the passing of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1955, which brought within its scope all landholders’ holdings in the crofting counties. The tenants of those holdings were then designated as crofters, as they had been in 1886. Some of the Land Court’s jurisdictions were transferred to the new Crofters Commission (now known as the Crofting Commission), meaning that there were two tribunals operating in the crofting counties — as is the case today. The Land Court still deals with questions relating to status of holdings, rents, resumption, removal, compensation for improvements and the right of the crofter to acquire his croft land, introduced by the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976.
In 1991, the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act of that year consolidated the earlier Acts relating to agricultural holdings and was amended by the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003, which confers on the Court a wide jurisdiction to deal with disputes about agricultural holdings, and also confers wide powers on the Court.
The Court’s jurisdiction as regards agricultural holdings is now largely to be found in the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991 (as amended) and as regards crofts, under the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993.
More recently, the Court has been designated as the forum for the final stage of appeal against the decisions of the Scottish Ministers under a number of agricultural subsidy and agri-environment schemes. The Court has also been given an appellate jurisdiction in respect of notices served by the Scottish Ministers in terms of the Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (Scotland) Regulations 2003, and an appellate jurisdiction in respect of decisions or conditions made by Scottish Natural Heritage in terms of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.