Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2015-16

Summary of proceedings dealt with by courts, sentencing outcomes and characteristics of convicted offenders.

This document is part of a collection

Key points

Court proceedings and convictions

(Tables 1,2,3 and 4a-c)

  • A total of 116,800 people were proceeded against in court in 2015-16, a fall of five per cent on 2014-15 (123,369 proceedings). The number of convictions fell at a slightly faster rate to 99,950 convictions, down six per cent on 2014-15 (106,622).
  • This continues the general downward trend of the last ten years and is in contrast to the rises in court activity seen between 2012-13 and 2014-15. Conviction rates have also declined over the last ten years, down 4 percentage points from 90 per cent in 2006-07 to 86 per cent in 2015-16.
  • The fall in convictions in 2015-16 has been driven by a fall in motor vehicle offence convictions (down 16 per cent to 32,569 convictions in 2015-16). This corresponds with a decline in convictions in the Justice of the Peace courts (down 15 per cent to 35,179) and a fall in financial penalties (down 12 per cent to 49,918) the court type and disposal type most likely to be associated with these types of convictions.
  • The number of convictions for sexual crimes remained broadly static in 2015-16 at 1,156 convictions. This follows four consecutive annual rises, with convictions in 2015-16 now 53 per cent higher than in 2010-11 (756 convictions). The rise since 2010-11, in part, reflects an increased level of reporting in the wake of high profile cases and a corresponding rise in the number of people being proceeded against in court.
  • The number of convictions for rape and attempted rape decreased by 16 per cent (from 124 in 2014-15 to 104 in 2015-16). This is within the context of the number of proceedings for these crimes also declining, down 20 per cent from 270 in 2014-15 to 216 proceedings in 2015-16. Despite this year's fall, the number of convictions for rape and attempted rape have nearly tripled since 2010-11 (36 convictions).
  • Convictions for non-sexual crimes of violence rose by one per cent in 2015-16 to 1,765 convictions, compared to 1,739 in 2014-15. There were increases in the number of convictions for homicide (5 per cent) and attempted murder & serious assault (6 per cent) up to 84 and 1,112 people respectively, with levels for robbery and "other violence" falling to the lowest levels in the last ten years (379 and 190 convictions respectively).
  • Convictions for crimes of dishonesty declined by 8 per cent in 2015-16, down to 11,580 convictions from 12,538 in 2014-15. This continues the decline of the last ten years with convictions now 37 per cent lower than in 2006-07 (18,382).

Court sentences

(Tables 7 to 10)

  • The number of financial penalties has been in general decline over the last ten years, dropping from 84,820 in 2006-07, when they accounted for 63 per cent of all disposals to 49,918 in 2015-16 (50 per cent). This year's decline of 12 per cent relates to the fall in motor vehicle offences, which are more likely to be given financial penalties (92 per cent received a financial penalty in 2015-16).
  • Compared to the number of convictions falling by 6 per cent, those resulting in a custodial sentence fell at a slower rate, down 2 per cent in the year to 2015-16 (from 14,035 to 13,735). Custodial sentences represented 14 per cent of all convictions in 2015-16, a proportion that has remained relatively stable since 2006-07, fluctuating between 12 and 15 per cent.
  • The average length of custodial sentences for all crimes, excluding life sentences, in 2015-16 was around nine and a half months (292 days), which is 3 days (1 per cent) longer than in 2014-15 (289 days). Over the longer term, between 2006-07 and 2009-10, custodial sentences increased by 22 per cent, from 232 days (7 and a half months) in 2006-07 to 282 days (over nine months) in 2009-10. Since then sentence lengths have remained broadly stable.
  • The crime type with the longest average sentences in 2015-16 was rape and attempted rape, which increased by 8 per cent (182 days) since 2014-15 to over seven years (2,572 days). The average sentence for homicide (excluding life sentences), decreased by 5 per cent (109 days) to just over five years (1,913 days), the shortest average sentence for homicide in ten years.
  • Sentences of 3 to 6 months have made up the most predominant sentence length since 2010-11 and stood at 35 per cent of all custodial sentences in 2015-16. Prior to 2010-11 sentences of up to 3 months were the most common custodial sentence, dropping from 53 per cent in 2006-07 to 30 per cent in 2015-16.
  • Nineteen per cent (or 18,943) of all convictions in 2015-16 resulted in a main penalty of a community sentence, accounting for a higher proportion than ten years ago, up 7 percentage points from 12 per cent in 2006-07. In 2015-16 there was a 2 per cent rise in the number of community sentences, up from 18,616 in 2014-15.
  • Community payback orders (CPO) make up the vast majority of community sentences (88 per cent or 16,742) with numbers remaining largely unchanged since 2014-15.

Characteristics of offenders

(Tables 5, 6, 8c, 10b, and 11)

  • The number of convictions per 1,000 population has declined over the last ten years from 29 in 2006-07 to 20 in 2015-16. This fall has been driven by a decline for males, down to 35 convictions per 1,000 population in 2015-16 from 50 in 2006-07. The rate for females has remained stable over the ten years, ranging between 7 and 8 convictions per 1,000 population.
  • Over the past 10 years the gap between the number of convictions per 1,000 population for younger people compared to older people has become smaller. This has been driven by a fall in the rate for younger people, whilst the rate for older people (aged 31 or above) has remained relatively stable.
  • Patterns in the number of disposals issued show differing patterns by age and gender over the last ten years. Whilst the number of financial penalties issued for all age and gender groups has fallen there have been rises in the number of community sentences issued for those aged 21 and over and for custodial sentences for those 31 and over. The rate of increase has generally been higher for women in those age groups than it has been for men.


(Tables 12 and 13)

  • There were 12,374 convictions with a "domestic" abuse aggravator recorded, a 1 per cent decrease down from 2014-15 (12,440 convictions). This represents a stabilisation following four consecutive annual increases with levels now 44 per cent higher than in 2010-11 (8,566 convictions). The increase may be reflective of better recording of the aggravator coupled with a strengthened emphasis on tackling domestic abuse in Scotland by both Police Scotland and the COPFS.


(Tables 14 and 15)

  • The number of bail orders decreased by 3 per cent from 46,560 in 2014-15 to 45,346 in 2015-16. Over the longer term numbers have fallen by 27 per cent since a peak of 62,294 bail orders in 2006-07. This is consistent with the longer term trends in volumes of cases coming to court.
  • There were 8,563 bail-related offences in 2015-16 (e.g. breach of bail conditions, such as failure to appear in court after being granted bail), broadly stable with levels in 2014-15 (8,548 bail orders). The number of bail-related offences as a percentage of bail orders granted was 19 per cent. This is around the same as last year but 7 percentage points higher than in 2006-07 (12 per cent).
  • In 2015-16 there were 15,641 undertakings to appear in court a fall of 7 per cent from numbers in 2014-15 (16,757 undertakings). This follows a sizeable fall in 2014-15 of 24 per cent down from 22,110 in 2013-14.

Police disposals (Tables 17 to 20)

  • In 2015-16, 29,360 people received an Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notice (ASBFPN) as a main penalty, a fall of 32 per cent from 42,956 in 2014-15. Levels continue to decrease for the second year in a row after a period of relative stability between 2010-11 and 2013-14 (ranging between 53,700 to 55,500 per annum). It is thought that some of the decline may be due to Police Scotland issuing revised guidance around the use of ASBFPNs.
  • Recorded Police Warnings (RPWs) were introduced in January 2016 to replace the Formal Adult Warnings (FAW) system. There were 4,074 RPWs issued during January to March 2016. Prior to the introduction of RPWs, FAWs were given to 3,355 people in 2015-16. This is 29 per cent less than the 4,756 given out in 2014-15, the difference being a direct result of FAWs being phased out over the course of 2015-16.

Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Tables 21 to 24)

  • In 2015-16 34,389 people were issued a fiscal fine as a main penalty, a decline of 5 per cent from 36,191 in 2014-15. This is the second annual decline following a period of three years where numbers were above 42,000 (between 2011-12 to 2013-14).
  • In 2015-16, 10,740 Crown Office Fixed Penalty (COFP) were issued to people as a main penalty, a decrease of 31 per cent from 15,480 in 2014-15. This is the second annual decline with the number issued being less than half the level in 2013-14 (23,494 COFPs). This is related to a fall in the number of road traffic offences reported by the Police.


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