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Criminal Courts in Scotland

High Court of Justiciary

The High Court of Justiciary is Scotland's supreme criminal court. It has jurisdiction over the whole of Scotland and over all crimes, unless excluded by statute. It can sit as a trial court in cities and larger towns throughout Scotland, although both Edinburgh and Glasgow have permanent High Court buildings. Throughout the rest of Scotland, the High Court sits in the local Sheriff Court building. When considering appeals, it sits only in Edinburgh.

In practice the High Court deals with the most serious crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking which are dealt with under solemn procedure. In solemn procedure the judge presides over the trial, ensures that the trial is conducted fairly, deals with all questions of law and deals with administrative issues as they crop up, but the decision making body is the jury.

In December 2001, Lord Bonomy was appointed to carry out a review of High Court practice and procedure. The recommendations in Lord Bonomy's report led to reform of the operation of the High Court.

For further information about the High Court, its jurisdiction and how it operates see the Scottish Court Service website

To learn more about the Bonomy reforms see the Bonomy Reforms web page

For information about the impact of the reforms see the Evaluation Report published in February 2007.

Sheriff Court

There are 6 sheriffdoms in Scotland, each of which contains sheriff court districts. Each of these contains a sheriff court. These courts deal with various matters including solemn and summary criminal prosecutions, fines, civil actions, bankruptcy actions and adoption cases.

Each court is presided over by one or more sheriffs.

Justice of the Peace Court

A Justice of the Peace Court is a lay court where up to three Justices of the Peace (JPs) who are not legally qualified sit with a legally qualified Clerk. The Clerk provides advice to the JPs on matters of law and procedure.

The maximum sentence that a JP may impose is 60 days imprisonment or a fine not exceeding £2,500

In Glasgow only, some JP courts are presided over by a legally qualified Stipendiary Magistrate. The maximum sentence that a Stipendiary Magistrate may impose is 12 months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding £10,000.