The Supreme Court is the only court with jurisdiction across the whole of the UK and also rules on devolution issues in Scotland, its president Lord David Neuberger said.
A Yes vote may put an end to the court’s jurisdiction “north of Hadrian’s wall” but a No vote could bring more devolution and more responsibility for the court, he said in a speech to the Institute for Government in London.
“The Supreme Court is not merely the top UK court; it is virtually the only UK court as Scotland and Northern Ireland each have entirely separate court, judicial and legal systems from England and Wales,” he said.
“So of the 12 justices, at least one must be Scottish and at least one Northern Irish.
“Apart from deciding appeals in important private law and public law disputes, the Supreme Court has been assigned an important role by Parliament, in that it decides devolution issues relating to Scotland and Wales, and to Northern Ireland, suggesting to some commentators a small move to a constitutional court.
“Next year’s Scottish independence referendum may put an end to our jurisdiction north of Hadrian’s wall, but we will have to wait and see whether there is a Yes vote and, if there is, what its consequences are.
“If there is a No vote, many people predict that there will be increased powers for Edinburgh, which may well mean more responsibility for the Supreme Court.
“The referendum is an important constitutional event which is likely to have a significant effect on the judiciary, but it is just the sort of issue into which judges should have no input.”
The role of the Supreme Court in Scotland has been a contentious issue in recent years because of a series of controversial rulings at the London-based court on Scottish cases.
In 2011, First Minister Alex Salmond appointed legal experts to investigate its functions.
The group, led by Lord McCluskey, backed the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to rule on human rights in Scottish criminal cases, but only if the High Court in Scotland grants convicts permission to appeal.