Summary of offences dealt with by courts, sentencing outcomes and characteristics of convicted offenders. Additional information on non-court penalties issued by the Police and Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service.

3. People convicted by court type

(Table 3)

There are three main court types that deal with criminal cases in Scotland:

  • The high court, which deals with the most serious crimes such as murder, rape and armed robbery. A single judge hears cases with a jury of 15 people.
  • Sheriff Courts, which deal with the majority of cases in Scotland. These can either be solemn, where the Sheriff sits with a jury of 15 people or summary, where the Sheriff sits alone. The maximum penalty that may be imposed in summary cases is 1 years' imprisonment or a £10,000 fine. For solemn cases the maximum penalty is 5 years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine.
  • Justice of the peace courts deal with the less serious crimes, such as speeding, careless driving and breach of the peace. They are chaired by a justice of the peace or “lay magistrate” who has been appointed from the local community and trained in criminal law and procedure.

In addition there is also a stipendiary court held in the Justice of the Peace Court premises in Glasgow. A stipendiary magistrate sits alone and has the same sentencing powers as in the sheriff summary court. They deal with more serious summary business similar to sheriffs, such as drink driving, dangerous driving and assault. Stipendiary court activity is therefore included in the sheriff summary total for the purposes of this publication.

Chart 5: Proportion of convictions by court type, 2005-06 to 2014-15

Chart 5: Proportion of convictions by court type, 2005-06 to 2014-15

Chart 5 shows that fifty-six per cent of convictions in 2014-15 were in sheriff summary courts, 8 percentage points less than ten years ago when levels were at 64 per cent in 2005-06. The fall reflects the growing share of activity in Justice of the Peace (JP) courts, which accounted for 39 per cent of convictions in 2014-15 compared to 32 per cent in 2005-06. This is consistent with the aims of Summary Justice Reform which was introduced in 2007, which included enhancing the capacity of justices of the peace to act as judges and making effective use of non-court disposals. See Annex E for more detail.

High court and sheriff solemn courts accounted for 5 per cent of all convictions in 2014-15, a figure that has been relatively stable since 2005-06.

A total of 106,507 people had a charge proved in 2014-15, a rise of less than one per cent on levels in 2013-14 (105,626). The annual change varied by court type with:

  • A marked increase in the number of convictions in Sheriff solemn courts, up 13 per cent from 4,234 in 2013-14 to 4,773 in 2014-15. This is the highest level in sheriff solemn courts in seven years and the increase is attributed in part to the increase of domestic abuse cases being brought to court.
  • An increase of 1 per cent for Sheriff summary courts, up to 59,788 in 2014-15.
  • Activity in Justice of the Peace (JP) courts, remained stable in 2014-15 at 41,379 convictions. This levelling off follows a sharp increase between 2012-13 and 2013-14 from 35,961 to 41,573 convictions, which can be attributed, in part, to the trend in motor vehicle offence convictions, which JP courts tend to deal with. Police Scotland prioritised these types of offences in 2013-14 resulting in an increase in motor vehicle offences cases coming to court (up 14 per cent to 40,287 convictions). Motor vehicle offence convictions have since dropped by 3 per cent in the year to 2014-15 to 38,945 but are still relatively high.
  • The number of high court convictions has fallen by 16 per cent in 2014-15, down from 673 in 2013-14 to 567. Please note that recording delays are typical for high court activity due to the complex nature of cases held there. As a result the total number of high court convictions for 2014-15 may be a slight underestimate, and the corresponding annual decline may be an overestimate.


Email: Gillian Diggins

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