Criminal proceedings in Scotland 2016-17: statistics

Statistics on criminal proceedings concluded in Scottish courts and alternatives to prosecution, issued by the police and by the Crown Office.


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 people 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

A change has been made to this year's report as follows:

Tables showing the breakdown of Formal Adult Warnings by crime type have been removed. FAWs were discontinued in 2015-16 and therefore appeared in such small numbers in 2016-17 that a breakdown by crime type would not be meaningful.

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 2015-16 and 2016-17 have again been published alongside this output. 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 currently 82% of records having a valid postcode. This is a slight improvement on last year, the first year for which this data was published, partly aided by the inclusion of postcodes from the rest of the UK for the first time.

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

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 or the police can send a report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) for review. The COPFS can decide to take no further action, to issue a direct measure or to proceed against the individual 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.

Recorded Crime

The statistical publication, Recorded Crime in Scotland 2016-17, was published on 26th September 2017. 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 2016-17 was 238,651, three per cent lower than in 2015-16 (246,243). This is the lowest level of recorded crime since 1974. The proportion of recorded crimes 'cleared up' by the police decreased by 1.6 percentage points from 51.6% in 2015-16 to 50.0% in 2016-17. 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 15% from 339,193 in 2015-16 to 288,961 in 2016-17. 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.

Whilst differences in counting methods (see Annex C) mean the figures in the Recorded Crime publication and those in this bulletin are not directly comparable, a crime or offence only comes to the attention of COPFS for consideration for prosecution once it has been recorded as such by the police, so recorded crime figures will have some influence on the number of prosecutions and convictions in court.

Chart 2: Overview of action within the criminal justice system 2016-17

Chart 2: Overview of action within the criminal justice system 2016-17

1. Figures rounded to the nearest 100.
2.Crimes recorded in 2015-16 may not be cleared up or dealt with until 2016-17 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.

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;
  • Recorded Police Warnings ( RPW) were introduced on 11 th January 2016 to deal with a wider range of low level offences. A warning can be issued on the spot, or a notice issued retrospectively. This scheme replaces and extends Formal Adult Warnings, with statistics in this publication covering the first full year of RPWs being in use;
  • Formal Adult Warnings ( FAW) were for minor offences, wherein a warning letter was issued to the offender. They were in force until 11 th January 2016. In some cases, proceedings may not have been completed until some time after this date, so a small number of FAWs are recorded in 2016-17; 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 2016-17, the COPFS received 195,731 criminal reports (from the police and other specialist reporting agencies), a decrease of 13% compared with 2015-16 (225,537). Where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to take action, 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, where appropriate, they may issue a direct measure. 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 the 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. There are also some offences included in this bulletin, such as failure to pay a television licence, which 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.

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.

What is covered by these statistics?


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