Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2015-16

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


This bulletin presents statistics on the number of people dealt with by the Scottish Criminal Justice System. The statistics are derived from data held on the Criminal History System (CHS), a central hub used for the electronic recording of information on persons accused and/or convicted of perpetrating a criminal act. The CHS is maintained by Police Scotland, who are also responsible for managing its operation.

Changes made to this year's report

Some changes have been made to this year's report as follows:

  • Tables 4a-c have been revised to present:
    a) Total proceedings by crime type for the last ten years;
    b) Total convictions by crime type for the last ten years;
    c) Conviction rate by crime type for the last ten years.
  • This set of tables supplements table 2b which provides conviction rates for the most recent year. Conviction rates in these tables are calculated by dividing the number of people convicted by the number of people proceeded against for a specific crime type. Previously only the number of convictions by crime type was made available for the last ten years but those figures did not provide context for the number of proceedings to allow conviction rates to be calculated by users. Please see section 2 for more commentary.
  • A methodological change has been implemented to include statistics on extended sentences and supervised release orders (section 9). These sentences are for offenders who have served time in prison but have an additional post-release supervision period attached to their sentence. This is the first time these statistics have been published and they provide greater detail on the nature and severity of custodial sentencing.
  • Due to a high interest in the length of custodial sentences (section 9), a further breakdown has been provided to the previously reported category of "over six months to 2 years". This category has now been subdivided into "over 6 months to 1 year" and "over 1 year to 2 years" in order to provide a greater degree of clarity.
  • Statistics on aggravators (section 13) are now consistent with our headline statistics i.e. based on the main charge in a proceeding and the number of people convicted. In previous years aggravator statistics related to all charges, not just the main one, which made comparisons with the headline statistics difficult. A breakdown by gender has also been made available due to an interest in more detailed breakdowns.
  • In addition, we have reduced the number of aggravator types presented due to concerns around data quality. Further investigation is required to establish whether the recording of these codes on the CHS is of a high enough standard to warrant publication for 2016-17.
  • The number of age categories has been increased to four categories to better reflect the distribution of those who are dealt with in the criminal justice system. All tables with age breakdowns now include an additional "Over 40" years old category whereas previously the oldest category was "Over 30" years old. A further breakdown of ages has been applied to table 5, which provides rates per 1,000 head of population over the last ten years. Section 14 provides more detail.
  • Statistics for Recorded Police Warnings, the new police disposal introduced in January 2016 to replace Formal Adult Warnings, have been included in this report as a new disposal (section 15).
  • Previously published statistics on police undertakings were not released last year due to concerns around data quality. We have investigated the issue and feel that the data are robust however and brought the information back into the publication (table 17 and section 17).

Local authority statistics based on the location of the accused

A set of local authority tables, based on the home postcode of the accused, for 2014-15 and 2015-16 have been published alongside this output for the first time. Criminal proceedings statistics were previously available at local authority level, based on the location of the court in which the case is heard. As cases for accused individuals can be heard in courts based in a different local authority to the one in which they live the court-based information has not always been the most useful information for our users. This is because the information is not necessarily representative of where the accused individuals live and therefore where support services are required to reduce reoffending.

These statistics have been badged as Experimental Statistics: Data being developed because they are based on incomplete postcode information with 80% of records having a valid postcode. We have identified that some of the missing postcodes relate to "non-Scottish" locations. We are working with Police Scotland to improve the quality of this information going forward. It is anticipated that the data quality for 2016-17 will be higher.

The statistics can be downloaded here along with full information on the limitations of the data.

Please note that the tables on Criminal Justice Authority Areas (CJA) have not been published this year. CJAs are groups of local authorities and the data were based on the local authority of the court location rather than the home location of the accused. Users are still able to request information based on the location of the court.

Routes through the Criminal Justice System

Chart 2 depicts the various possible routes through the criminal justice system. People who are accused of a crime can be dealt with in a variety of ways: they can be dealt with directly by the police, be fined or warned by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) or be proceeded against in court. The number of people passing through the Criminal Justice System at a particular point in time depends in part on levels of crime made known to the police, as well as the measures that are available for use by criminal justice organisations at that time, as these can influence the point at which action is taken.

At each of the stages presented in Chart 2 information is logged on the CHS regarding the status of the accused. The COPFS and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) make updates on their own systems which are fed back electronically to Police Scotland's CHS. When an offender's case reaches its final conclusion it is considered completed and the case is "disposed" of from the criminal justice system. The option used to complete the case is referred to as the method of "disposal", whether it is a court disposal used by SCTS or non-court disposal employed by the COPFS or the police.

Committing a crime

The statistical publication, Recorded Crime in Scotland 2015-16, was published on 27th September 2016. The Recorded Crime publication and this Criminal Proceedings publication divide violations of criminal law into (a) crimes and (b) offences (see Annex D for further detail). This distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes.

As shown in Chart 2 the total number of crimes recorded by the police in Scotland in 2015-16 was 246,243, 4 per cent lower than in 2014-15 (256,350). This is the lowest level of recorded crime since 1974. The proportion of recorded crimes 'cleared up' by the police in 2015-16 increased by 1.2 percentage points from 50.4 per cent in 2014-15 to 51.6 per cent in 2015-16. A crime is regarded as 'cleared-up' where there is sufficient evidence under Scots law to justify consideration of criminal proceedings.

The total number of offences recorded by the police decreased by 11 per cent from 379,498 in 2014-15 to 339,193 in 2015-16. It should be noted that the number of offences recorded by the police generally tends to be affected more by police activity and operational decisions than the number of crimes.

Please note that some offences included in this bulletin, such as failure to pay a television licence, are reported directly to the procurator fiscal by specialist reporting agencies such as TV Licensing and therefore are not included in the police recorded crime statistics.

Chart 2: Overview of action within the criminal justice system 2015-16

Chart 2: Overview of action within the criminal justice system 2015-16

1. Figures rounded to the nearest 100.
2. Crimes recorded in 2014-15 may not be cleared up or dealt with until 2015-16 or later.
3. A report to the procurator fiscal may involve more than one crime or offence and more than one alleged offender.
4. Reports to the fiscal on non-criminal matters such as sudden deaths, are not included in this total.
5. Number of people from CHS.
6. Number of cases; data from Crown Office.
7. Figures for people with a charge proved count the number of occasions on which a person is convicted.

A number of outcomes may result in subsequent prosecutions or referrals to other agencies, for example if a condition such as payment of a fixed penalty is not complied with. For simplicity, these pathways are not shown in the diagram.

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Police disposals and referrals

Chart 2 also shows that following a crime being cleared up, Police Scotland will either send a report to the COPFS to decide what action should be taken or will deal with the case directly. Section 15 of this report contains statistics on the following non-court disposals available to the police when dealing with a case directly:

  • Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices (ASBFPNs) as provided for in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 for a range of offences including drunken-related behaviours and playing loud music;
  • Formal adult warnings are for minor offences wherein a warning letter is issued to the offender and were in force until 11th January 2016. Statistics in this bulletin covers a period of just over 9 months from April 2015 till they were phased out in January 2016;
  • Police recorded warnings were introduced on 11th January 2016 to deal with a wider range of low level offences. This scheme replaces Formal Adult Warnings with statistics in this publication covering just under 3 months for which the warnings have been in operation; and
  • Actions which are used specifically for juveniles (aged 8 to 17) such as restorative justice warnings and Early and Effective Interventions (EEI).

There are further options available to the police that we are not able to provide data on such as conditional offers of a fixed penalty notice for moving motor vehicle offences.

A full listing of the range of disposals available can be seen in Annex D.

COPFS disposals and referrals (Section 16)

In 2015-16, the COPFS received 225,537 criminal reports (from the police and other specialist reporting agencies), a decrease of 8 per cent compared with 2014-15 (244,387). Prosecution in court is only one of a range of possible options the COPFS has for dealing with people they have received a report for and they may decide to deal with some cases themselves. Statistics for the following non-court disposals are included in this publication:

  • Fiscal fines of between £50 and £300;
  • Compensation orders of up to £5,000;
  • Fixed penalties of between £50 and £300, generally issued for motor vehicle offences.

There are further actions that COPFS can take that are not included in this report such as fiscal warnings as well as diverting cases to social work and other agencies and referrals to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA).

A full listing of the range of disposals available can be seen in Annex D.

Court disposals

The majority of statistics in this publication provide information on criminal cases brought to court and are contained in sections 1 to 13. The outcomes possible for the person proceeded against are:

  • The person is convicted, either after pleading guilty or being found guilty after evidence has been heard in court;
  • The person is acquitted following a not guilty verdict;
  • The person is acquitted following a not proven verdict;
  • The person has their plea of not guilty accepted by the prosecutor or the case against them is deserted.

Comparability with other statistics

Please note that the statistics presented in Chart 2 are taken from multiple data sources which are not strictly comparable and there is no direct relationship between the number of crimes and offences recorded by the police and the number of follow-up actions taken by other agencies within the criminal justice system. For example, in the recorded crime statistics a single crime or offence recorded by the police may have more than one perpetrator, each of whom would be counted separately in the criminal proceedings statistics.

In addition there are other comparability issues in that crimes or offences recorded and cleared up by the police may not be fully processed by the procurator fiscal or the courts in the same year. There is also the possibility that the crime or offence recorded by the police may be altered by the COPFS during their marking process.

For full details of comparability issues please see the relevant sections in Annex C.


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