Criminal proceedings in Scotland 2017-2018

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.

This document is part of a collection


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

Changes have been made to this year’s report as follows:

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 created a statutory aggravation of domestic abuse. This part of the legislation came into force on 24 April 2017, and the first statistics on use of the new statutory domestic abuse aggravator appear in this bulletin. Figures on the pre-existing non statutory also appear alongside.

Fiscal Warnings have been added to the information provided on Crown Office disposals. Data is presented from 2012-13 onwards.

Orders for Lifelong Restriction (OLR) have been removed from the calculation of the average length of prison sentences. Similar to life sentences, OLRs are indeterminate sentences so it is not possible to meaningfully incorporate these sentences into the average sentence length calculations for determinate sentences.

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 2017-18, was published on 25th September 2018. 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 2017-18 was 244,504, two per cent higher than in 2016-17 (238,921). This is the second-lowest level of recorded crime since 1974. The proportion of recorded crimes ‘cleared up’ by the police decreased by 0.5 percentage points from 50.0% in 2016-17 to 49.5% in 2017-18. 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 nine per cent from 288,691 in 2016-17 to 264,027 in 2017-18. 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.

Chart 2: Overview of action within the criminal justice system 2017-181

Chart 2: Overview of action within the criminal justice system 2017-18

1 Figures rounded to the nearest 100, and based on activity during 2017-18.
2 Crimes recorded in 2017-18 may not be cleared up or dealt with until 2017-18 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, Recorded Police Warning also includes 200 Formal Adult Warnings.
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.
8 It may be deemed that an incident does not warrant recording e.g. if there is a lack of evidence that a crime was committed.

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 11th 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 replaced and extended Formal Adult Warnings, with statistics in this publication covering the second full year of RPWs being in use; 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 2017-18, the COPFS received 177,801 criminal reports (from the police and other specialist reporting agencies), a decrease of nine per cent compared with 2016-17 (195,731). 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;
  • Fiscal warnings; and
  • 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 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 14. 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


Email: Ian Volante

Back to top