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
1. Trends in people proceeded against and convicted
(Tables 1 and 2a and 2b, 4a and 4b)
Unless otherwise stated, references in this bulletin to the crime or offence group for which a person is proceeded against or convicted relate to the main charge involved. The main charge is the crime or offence receiving the most severe penalty if one or more charges are proved in a single proceeding (as defined in Annex C). The final column of Table 4(a) provides counts of individual offences with a charge proved regardless of whether or not they were the main offence involved. Please note that where a person is subject to multiple separate proceedings, they will be counted multiple times in the figures presented in this bulletin.
A total of 95,254 people were proceeded against in court in 2017-18, a fall of 11% on 2016-17 (107,362 proceedings). The number of convictions fell at a similar rate, down 10% to 82,716 from 2016-17 (92,347). This continues the general downward trend of the last ten years. It is in contrast to the rises in court activity seen between 2012-13 and 2014-15 which was a result of a short term rise in the number of motor vehicle offence cases reaching court. Convictions in 2017-18 were 34% lower than the ten-year high of 125,893 in 2008-09.
The fall in the number of convictions in the last year has been driven by a fall in breach of the peace convictions (down 11% to 13,555 convictions in 2017-18), common assault convictions (down 13% to 9,810 convictions in 2017-18) and speeding convictions (down 12% to 9,405 convictions in 2017-18), although the conviction rates are almost unchanged. There have been falls in convictions for most crime categories.
2. Trends in conviction rates
Conviction rates are calculated by dividing the number of people convicted by the number of people proceeded against. Eighty-seven per cent of people proceeded against in court in 2017-18 were convicted after being found guilty of at least one charge (82,716 people). This is a one percentage point increase from 2016-17 but still is two percentage points less than in 2008-09 when 89% of people were convicted. The overall picture is one of relative stability.
Conviction rates are highest for motor vehicle offences, with 94% of people proceeded against being convicted in 2017-18. In particular, speeding offences had a conviction rate of 98% whilst the lowest rate was for rape and attempted rape (43%), four percentage points higher than in 2016-17. The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape has been the lowest of all crimes in each of the last ten years. Further detail for acquittals can be seen in section 3 with respect to rape and attempted rape.
Over the last ten years the largest declines in conviction rates have been for:
- Sexual assault, down 16 percentage points from 79% in 2008-09 to 63% in 2017-18 (although this is the highest rate since 2013-14); and
- Mobile phone offences, down eight percentage points from 95% in 2008-09 to 87% in 2017-18.
- It should also be noted that conviction rates for seat belt offences, and for miscellaneous offences relating to drunkenness, and urinating etc have fallen by around 10% since 2008/09, but the total number of proceedings for such offences has fallen by more than 90% in that period, meaning that there is more likely to be excessive variability in these relatively small figures.
3. Acquittals by crime type
As outlined in section 2, there was an overall conviction rate of 87% in 2017-18 (calculated by dividing the number of people convicted by the number of people proceeded against). Five per cent were acquitted on a ‘not guilty’ verdict, and around one per cent were acquitted on a ‘not proven’ verdict. The remaining seven per cent either had a plea of ‘not guilty’ accepted or their case was deserted by the prosecution or the court. These proportions are broadly unchanged over the last four years.
Chart 3: Crime types with the highest acquittal rates (not guilty and not proven)
Chart 3 shows the crime types with the highest acquittal rates in comparison with the overall rate of six per cent in 2017-18:
- The highest rate was seen for rape and attempted rape, where 55% or 136 people of the 247 proceeded against were acquitted;
- There were also high acquittal rates for sexual assault (33% had their case acquitted); and
- Crimes of attempted murder and serious assault and other non-sexual crimes of violence had relatively high acquittal rates in comparison with the six per cent average for all crimes and offences, standing at 25% and 18% respectively.
Nineteen per cent of people proceeded against for theft of a motor vehicle had a plea of not guilty accepted or the case against them was deserted, the highest proportion of all crime groups.
4. People convicted by court type
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. The maximum penalty that may be imposed is up to life imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The exact maximum in a given case will be determined by any limit provided for in the statute creating the offence being prosecuted. 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 for summary cases (in most circumstances) is 1 year’s imprisonment and/or a £10,000 fine. For solemn cases the maximum penalty is 5 years' imprisonment and/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.
Chart 4 shows that 61% of convictions in 2017-18 were in sheriff summary courts, one percentage point less than when levels were at 62% in 2008-09, although all of the intervening years were lower, likely due to summary justice reform shifting some business from sheriff courts to Justice of the Peace (JP) courts.
However, JP courts now account for 33% of convictions in 2017-18 compared to 34% in 2008-09, its lowest level in the last decade, showing a reduction in cases coming to summary court.
Chart 4: Proportion of convictions by court type, 2008-09 to 2017-18
A total of 82,716 people were convicted in 2017-18, a fall of 10% on levels in 2016-17 (92,347). There was also an 11% fall in the numbers of proceedings. The annual change varied by court type with:
- Activity in Justice of the Peace courts has fallen by 13% from 31,489 convictions in 2016-17 to 27,410 in 2017-18. The decline follows relatively high levels in 2013-14 and 2014-15 of over 41,000 convictions in each year, which can be attributed, in part, to a rise in motor vehicle offence business, which are the types of offences JP courts tend to deal with. Convictions for miscellaneous and motor offences have fallen to a greater extent than crimes overall this year, which may help to explain this proportionate decline in JP business.
- Convictions in Sheriff Summary courts fell by nine per cent to 50,635 in 2017-18 from 55,496 in 2016-17. This is the second largest fall in sheriff summary convictions since 2009-10.
- The number of convictions in Sheriff solemn courts decreased by 14% in 2017-18 to 4,068 convictions from 4,713 in 2016-17. This is the lowest number of convictions in these courts since 2009-10.
- The number of high court convictions decreased by seven per cent in 2017-18 to 603 convictions (from 649 in 2016-17) and activity remains historically low. 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 the most recent year may be slightly underestimated.
5. People convicted by crime/ offence
This publication divides breaches of criminal law into (a) crimes and (b) offences. This distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes. Although the breaches allocated under “crimes” can be considered to be more serious, there are some “offences” that have more severe punishments associated with them than “crimes”. See Annex D for a full listing of the classification.
A total of 82,716 people were convicted in 2017-18, a decline of 10% on levels in 2016-17 (92,347). In 2017-18 “crimes” made up 29,486 of the total number of convictions (36%) while “offences” stood at 53,230 (64%). The rate of decline was marginally higher for offences in the year to 2017-18 (down 12%) than for crimes (down nine per cent). The largest components of these decreases are in convictions related to ‘other crimes’, including ‘crimes against public justice’ and ‘drugs’; and there are continuing falls in a range of motoring offence convictions.
6. People convicted by crime group
Non-sexual crimes of violence
Non-sexual crimes of violence include the crimes of homicide, attempted murder & serious assault, robbery and other violent crime (see Annex D for a full listing). Convictions for these types of crimes rose by five per cent in 2017-18 to 1,812, from 1,724 in 2016-17. Non-sexual crimes of violence and Sexual crimes were the only two crime groups where the number of convictions increased compared to 2016-17, though the number of convictions for non-sexual crimes of violence remains 32% lower than in 2008-09 (2,659 convictions).
The largest increase for an individual crime type within non-sexual crimes of violence was for homicide, up 17% from 77 convictions in 2016-17 to 90, although this remains lower than any year in the 2008-14 period. The number of convictions for robbery also increased by nine per cent from 370 convictions in 2016-17 to 404 in 2017-18. The number of convictions for attempted murder and serious assault has gone up by five per cent to 1,168 in 2017-18, but remains 32% below its 2008-09 level (1,709 convictions).
Convictions for other non-sexual crimes of violence continued their long-term fall, declining by seven per cent from 162 convictions in 2016-17 to 150 in 2017-18.
The number of convictions for sexual crimes increased marginally in 2017-18 to 1,053 convictions. Numbers of convictions remain historically high and are 39% higher than their lowest point in the last decade in 2010-11 (756 convictions). The rise likely reflects a corresponding rise in the number of people being proceeded against in court, up 61% since 2010-11 from 933 proceedings to 1,502 in 2017-18, although this number was at a high in 2014-15 at 1,644.
The number of convictions for rape and attempted rape increased by eight per cent (from 99 in 2016-17 to 107 in 2017-18). The number of proceedings for these crimes fell slightly this year to 247 from 251 in 2016-17, down two per cent. At the same time, the number of convictions for rape and attempted rape have nearly tripled since 2010-11 (36 convictions). The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape increased this year by four percentage points to 43%, although remains below the recent peak of 56% in 2012-13. Please note that recording delays are typical for high court activity due to the complex nature of cases held there. As a result the number of convictions for rape and attempted rape for 2017-18 may be slightly underestimated.
The number of sexual assault convictions has risen by 14% in 2017-18, to 302 convictions. This is the highest number in ten years, and has doubled since 2011-12 (151 convictions).
Chart 5: Sexual crime type convictions, 2008-09 to 2017-18
Chart 5 shows that over the last decade, it is other sexual crimes that have grown as a proportion of all sexual crimes to make up the majority. “Other sexual crimes” made up 42% of all sexual offence convictions in the year where there were fewest convictions (2010-11, 315 convictions) but their share rose to 60% by 2015-16 (694 convictions), before falling back to 57% in 2016-17, where it remains in 2017-18 (597 convictions). The longer-term growth in the proportion of this crime type has been partly driven by increases in convictions for “taking, distribution, possession etc of indecent photos of children”, and for “communicating indecently”.
The proportion of convictions for sexual crimes classed as Crimes associated with prostitution fell by half this year to four per cent (47 convictions), 86% lower than in 2008-09. There was an increase in sexual assault convictions, up from 26% in 2016-17 to 29% (302 convictions) in 2017-18.
Crimes of dishonesty
Convictions for crimes of dishonesty have steadily declined in the last ten years down from 17,429 in 2007-08 to 9,801 convictions in 2017-18 (a drop of 44%).
The total number of proceedings has declined at a similar rate, down 43% from 19,585 in 2008-09 to 11,073 in 2017-18. This is reflective of fairly stable conviction rates for crimes of dishonesty, which have varied between 86% and 89% over the last ten years.
Chart 6: Convictions for Crimes of Dishonesty 2008-09 to 2017-18
Overall convictions for crimes of dishonesty declined by nine per cent in 2017-18, down to 9,801 convictions from 10,809 in 2016-17. There were declines in all crime types within crimes of dishonesty between 2016-17 and 2017-18, including:
- Housebreaking convictions decreased by seven per cent from 873 to 809 convictions; and
- Fraud convictions down by 14% from 545 to 469; this is now 67% lower than in 2008-09 (1,438 convictions).
7. People convicted by offence group
There were 53,230 “offence” convictions in 2017-18. As a proportion of all offences, common assault and breach of the peace made up 44%, while speeding and unlawful use of a vehicle accounted for 31%. These proportions have remained at broadly similar levels since 2008-09.
Motor vehicle offences
Motor vehicle offence convictions declined by 10% from 30,579 convictions in 2016-17 to 27,637 in 2017-18. This drop continues a downward trend following the marked rise of 14% in motor vehicle offences in 2013-14. There have since been changes in guidelines issued to officers around these types of offences. Since 2014-15, overall declines have occurred for each of the motor vehicle offence groups except dangerous and careless driving (up one per cent to 3,805 this year compared to 2016-17), which has increased every year since 2014-15.
The crime groups within motor vehicle offence convictions which decreased the most between 2016-17 and 2017-18 were for:
- Seat belt offences down 72% from 312 convictions to 86;
- Mobile phone offences down 42% from 1,477 to 859; and
- Vehicle defect offences down 27% from 1,335 to 980.
There were 3,649 in 2017-18 convictions for driving under the influence which is very similar to the figure of 3,634 in 2016-17, and number of convictions are broadly unchanged since 2014-15. It is to be noted that the alcohol limit for drivers was reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg per 100 ml blood in December 2014.
The vast majority of “miscellaneous offences” are breach of the peace and common assault offences. Both groups showed decreases in convictions between 2016-17 and 2017-18:
- Breach of the peace category, down 11% from 15,304 to 13,555 convictions; and
- Common assault, down 13% from 11,240 to 9,810 convictions.
8. Headlines in court sentencing
The main types of penalty or sentence given to those found guilty in Scottish Courts are custodial sentences, community sentences and financial penalties. Sections 9-12 provide statistics on these types of punishments. In addition, for less serious cases or where it is felt the main punishment types are not suitable, the individual found guilty can be “admonished” (given a verbal warning from the sheriff). A full listing of the range of court disposals is outlined in Annex D.
Of all people convicted during 2017-18:
- 47% were issued financial penalties (39,260);
- 20% were issued community sentences (16,830); and
- 14% were issued custodial sentences (11,973).
A further 18% of people were issued other sentences (14,653), which are mostly admonishments.
Chart 7: Sentences imposed, 2007-08 and 2017-18
9. Custodial Sentences
Custodial sentences comprise convicted people who are sent to prison or a young offenders institution. The number of custodial sentences given is affected by a range of factors, including the number of convictions in any given year and the types of crimes for which people are being convicted. The number of custodial sentences fell by six per cent (from 12,705 in 2016-17 to 11,973 in 2017-18). The number of custodial sentences has generally declined since the peak of 16,946 in 2008-09 and is now 29% below that level. Custodial sentences represented 14% of all convictions in 2017-18. This proportion has remained relatively stable over the last ten years, fluctuating between 13 and 15%.
Extended sentences and Supervised Release Orders
Extended sentences and supervised release orders are for offenders who have served time in prison but have an additional post-release supervision period attached to their sentence (see Annex D for more details). There has been a fall in their use this year (from 538 to 450), although the total used has been over 400 (with a peak of 542) since 2010-11.
Please note that we do not have information on the length of the supervision period on our dataset, just the length of the custodial part of the sentence.
Length of custodial sentences
Courts will consider the full facts and circumstances of a case before deciding an appropriate sentence in a given case. This includes whether or not the offender has been convicted before and whether there are any mitigating circumstances. These statistics do not take into account the factors influencing the sentencing decisions.
All of the 27 people issued life sentences in 2017-18 received these for murder. When a court imposes a life sentence, a minimum period in custody, called the “punishment part” is set by the court before the prisoner can be considered for release on licence by the parole board. “On licence” means that a life prisoner is subject to recall to prison if they breach the terms of their release in their lifetime.
Average custodial sentence
Information on the minimum custodial period of a life sentence is not available from the criminal proceedings database, therefore it is not possible to incorporate these sentences into the average sentence length. The average length of custodial sentences for all crimes, excluding life sentences, in 2017-18 was just under ten and a half months (318 days), which is one per cent longer than in 2016-17 (314 days). Over the longer term, there has been a general upward trend in sentence length, and they are now 21% longer than in 2008/09 (263 days).
Categories of custodial sentence length
The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 commenced in February 2011 and introduced a presumption against short sentences (3 months or less). This presumption states that a court must not pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 3 months or less unless it considers that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate.
Chart 8 illustrates patterns of custodial sentence length by specific categories. In 2008-09 the most common length was “up to 3 months” (6,914 people), which made up 41% of custodial sentences. Over the ten-year period, levels have dropped with sentences of “up to 3 months” making up 27% of custodial sentences in 2017-18. These sentences started to fall before the presumption was introduced.
Chart 8: Length of Custodial Sentences, 2008-09 to 2017-18
Figures show that:
- Custodial sentences of “over 3 months to 6 months” accounted for 31% of custodial sentences in 2008-09 (5,230 people) and rose to 39% (6,153 people) by 2011-12. Thirty-six per cent of sentences were between 3 and 6 months in 2017-18.
- Sentences of “over 6 months to 1 year” made up 13% of all sentences in 2008-09 (2,158 people), rising to 17% by 2017-18 (2,040 people);
- Similarly, the share of custodial sentences “over one year to 2 years” has been increasing. They made up eight per cent in 2008-09 (1,318 people), rising to 12% by 2017-18 (1,393 people); and
- The proportion of custodial sentences of “2 years to under 4 years” and “4 years and over” the longest categories of custodial sentence, have remained broadly constant over the last ten years, at around five and four per cent of all custodial sentences respectively.
10. Custodial Sentences by type of crime
Custodial Sentences for Non-sexual Crimes of Violence
Homicide comprises murder, culpable homicide (i.e. unlawful killing but without intent to do so) and the statutory crimes of causing death by dangerous or careless driving, causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, driving illegally when involved in a fatal accident and corporate homicide.
Seventy per cent, or 62 of the 90 people convicted of homicide in 2017-18 were given a custodial sentence, a slight decrease on the 2016-17 figure of 74%. During the period from 2008-09 to 2013-14, the proportion of homicide convictions receiving custodial sentences was greater than 80%. Since then, it has ranged from 69% to 74%, this year’s rate of 70% being at the low end of that range. This can, in part, be attributed to a higher proportion of “causing death by careless driving” crimes making up the total of homicide convictions since 2014-15 and the fact that these types of homicide tend to attract non-custodial sentences. Furthermore, compulsion orders, made when the court is satisfied that the accused has a mental disorder requiring treatment are not counted as custodial sentences.
Around 43% of custodial sentences for homicide were life sentences imposed for murder (27 people), a fall compared to 2016-17 (53%, 30 people). The remainder, who were convicted for other types of homicide, were given an average sentence of around six and a half years (2,405 days), over a year (506 days) longer than in 2016-17 (1,899 days) and the longest average for homicide (excluding murder) in ten years.
Other changes in average custodial sentences for non-sexual crimes of violence between 2016-17 and 2017-18 are as follows:
- A decrease of four per cent for “attempted murder and serious assault” (38 days less, to 949 days in total);
- A decrease of five per cent for robbery (down 40, to 790 days); and
- An increase of 25% for other non-sexual crimes of violence, (up by 171 to 846 days), this makes it the highest value in the last decade. It should be noted that this is the smallest category of crimes within the group, and average sentences are therefore more variable.
Custodial Sentences for Sexual Crimes
As shown in chart 9, custody was the most frequently used disposal for “rape and attempted rape”, being imposed on 97% of people with a charge proven. Custodial sentences for “rape and attempted rape” attracted the longest average custodial sentence of all crime types (other than life sentences for murder). The average sentence length for this kind of crime increased in 2017-18, up 65 days (three per cent) to 2,567 days (just over seven years), the highest average sentence for rape and attempted rape of the last ten years. There is no clear recent trend in average sentence length for rape and attempted rape.
Sexual assault sentences were, on average, 45 days (five per cent) longer than in 2016-17, rising to 986 days (around 2 years and 7 months) in 2017-18. This is the third increase in sentence lengths in four years since the decade low of 871 days in 2013-14.
Custodial Sentences for Crimes of Dishonesty
Overall, the average custodial sentence length for crimes of dishonesty increased from 206 days in 2016-17 to 209 days in 2017-18; a rise of one per cent, and 67 days longer (47%) than in 2008-09 when the average was 142 days. The most notable change within this category is the 16% increase in average sentence length for fraud, now just over a year (387 days).
Other notable trends for crimes of dishonesty included:
Around 65% of housebreaking convictions received custodial sentences in 2017-18, up three per cent from 2016-17. This is the highest proportion of housebreaking convictions for which custodial sentences have been imposed in the last decade, a period during which the proportion has increased in almost every year. In 2017-18, the average custodial sentence for housebreaking was almost 15 months (443 days), an eight-day (two per cent) decrease from 2016-17 when it was 451 days. The average sentence length is almost twice the length it was in 2008-09 (223 days).
The proportion of convictions for fraud that resulted in a custodial sentence was 28% in 2017-18, an increase of two percentage points on the previous year. The average sentence length has increased by 73% since 2008-09 up to 387 days, the highest average sentence in ten years.
Chart 9: Average sentence length (excluding life sentences) and proportion receiving custody, by crime and offence group, 2017-181
1 - Excludes crime types where the number of people setenced to prison is fewer than 30.
Custodial Sentences for Handling Offensive Weapons
Sections 47 and 49 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 make provision for the offences of:
- Carrying offensive weapons;
- Having in a public place an article with a blade or point.
These two offences make up the crime group “handling offensive weapons”, statistics for which are presented in the standard tables accompanying this publication. As shown in Table A, there were 1,451 people convicted of “handling offensive weapons” in 2017-18, of which the majority were for carrying knives i.e. “having in a public place an article with a blade or point” (941 convictions). These changes represent a small increase from last year, but numbers of convictions are around half of what they were in 2008-09. The remainder related to crimes for other weapons such as baseball bats, bottles and pieces of wood. Firearm offences are not included in the “handling offensive weapons” category but are included within “other miscellaneous offences”.
Statistics for carrying knives are not published separately in the standard tables accompanying this bulletin but are presented below alongside trends for all “handling offensive weapons”.
Table A: Sentencing for handling offensive weapons
|"Handling offensive weapons" (as published in tables 4b, 9 and 10c) Having in a public place an article with a blade/point or carrying other offensive weapons||Number convicted||3,516||1,436||1,451|
|% recieving a custodial sentence||30%||34%||35%|
|Average custodial sentence (days)||260||392||353|
|Knife offences only:"Having in a public place an article with a blade or point"||Number of convicted||1,838||917||941|
|% recieving a custodial sentence||36%||37%||38%|
|Average custodial sentence (days)||277||422||365|
The proportion of convictions for handling offensive weapons which received a custodial sentence increased slightly in 2017-18 to 35%, although there has been little change in this rate over the last few years. The rate is currently five percentage points higher than it was in 2008-09. Similarly, the proportion of custodial sentences given specifically for knife offences has returned to a level similar to that seen at the start of the last decade (38% in 2017-18 compared to 36% in 2008-09), with a general increase and subsequent fall during the intervening period.
Chart A: Proportion of convictions leading to a custodial sentence for handling offensive weapons and knife offences
The average custodial sentence length for handling offensive weapons is 36% higher than it was in 2008-09, increasing from 260 days in 2008-09 to 353 days in 2017-18. In 2017-18, the average sentence length for this type of offence fell by 10% to 353 days from the outlier of 392 days in 2016-17, taking it to the lowest average since 2012-13. The trend over the last ten years is similar for knife offences, with the average custodial sentence length being around three per cent longer than that of handling offensive weapons at 365 days in 2017-18.
11. Community Sentences
Community sentence is a collective term for the ways that courts can punish someone convicted of committing an offence other than by serving a custodial sentence. There is a wide range of options available in the Scottish courts, which are listed at Annex D.
Twenty per cent (or 16,830) of all convictions in 2017-18 resulted in a main penalty of a community sentence. These account for a higher proportion (20%) of the total court sentences than ten years ago, up from 14% in 2008-09, although close to unchanged since 2015-16. There was a decrease of 10% in the number of community sentences in 2017-18 from 18,646 in 2016-17, which is in line with the overall decrease in the number of disposals.
Chart 10: Persons issued community sentences, 2008-09 to 2017-18
Community Payback Orders (CPO) enable the courts to impose a range of requirements including unpaid work and supervision as well as being put through a programme of rehabilitation to address their behaviours (see Annex D for full details). CPOs replaced probation and community service orders for offences committed on or after 1st February 2011. This is reflected in the statistics, as the number of people receiving CPOs rose sharply between 2010-11 (461 CPOs) and 2013-14 (16,379 CPOs). Numbers declined by 15% in the year to 2017-18 to 13,601 people, representing 81% of all community sentences, and the first time that the numbers of CPOs fell as a proportion of all convictions.
A Restriction of Liberty Order (RLO) is a court order that requires a person to remain within a location, usually their home, at times specified by the court. A person's compliance with the order is monitored electronically. RLOs made up 16% of people receiving community sentences in 2017-18 (2,691 RLOs), rising 22% from 2,204 in 2016-17. Please note that these statistics on RLOs will not match the statistics published by G4S, the Scottish Government’s contractor for electronic monitoring. This is because the statistics in this publication are representative of the main charge in a set of proceedings and will not include RLOs issued for secondary charges. By contrast the G4S figures count all RLOs issued by the courts relating to all charges.
Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTOs) are designed to reduce or stop offending by addressing problem drug use through the provision or access to a closely monitored treatment programme. The number of DTTOs rose by 24% from 418 in 2016-17 to 518 in 2017-18. This is the first increase after eight consecutive annual declines, but levels are still 41% lower than in 2008-09 (885 DTTOs).
Community sentences are available for courts to use in any case where the offence is punishable by imprisonment. In 2017-18 the crimes/offences with greater than 40% of community sentences were for:
Other sexual crimes – 353 people, or 59% of court disposals for these crimes;
Sexual Assault – 156 people, or 52%;
Theft from a motor vehicle – 95 people, or 43%;
Fire-raising – 177 people, or 42% of court disposals;
Other non-sexual crimes of violence – 63 people, or 42%; and
Theft of a motor vehicle – 100 people, or 41%.
12. Financial penalties and other sentences
The courts can impose fines, which are enforced by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS), or compensation orders, which are enforced by SCTS with the monies then paid to the victim.
The number of financial penalties has been in general decline over the last ten years, dropping from 73,991 in 2008-09, when they accounted for 59% of all disposals. Numbers have continued to decline in the latest year, down by 13% from 44,946 in 2016-17 to 39,260 in 2017-18. They now account for fewer than half (47%) of all disposals.
The median fine imposed by courts on individuals (excluding companies) in 2016-17 was £230, in cash terms. The median fine has increased by 15% over the last 10 years, up from £200 in 2008-09.
The use of compensation orders as a main penalty increased by eight per cent to 786 in the year to 2017-18, only the third rise in the last ten years. Numbers remain 32% lower than in 2008-09 (1,153). The median value for compensation orders has risen at a faster rate than for fines, up from £180 in 2008-09 to £285 in 2017-18. Please note that compensation orders can be given as an additional punishment to a single offence and hence the median is based on either the main or secondary penalty for specific offences.
“Other sentences” are mostly admonishments (a verbal warning from the sheriff). In 2017-18, 13,861 people were admonished, which represented 17% of all convictions. This has increased from 13% in 2008-09, although has remained almost unchanged since 2015-16. In 2017-18 the crimes for which admonishments were most frequently given (where there were more than 1,000 convictions overall) were:
- Shoplifting with 33% of all convictions being admonishments (1,850 convictions);
- Crimes against public justice with 33% (2,633 convictions); and
- Breach of the peace etc. with 29% (3,886 convictions).
Codes can be recorded on the Criminal History System (CHS) by Police Scotland or COPFS to provide additional information relating to the nature of a charge. Some of these codes (aggravators) are created by legislation. These must be proved in court. For example, someone who commits an assault which is motivated by malice towards the victim as a result of their religion would have their offence recorded under common assault with an aggravator code of religious hatred.
Other aggravators are not created by legislation, but are identifiers added to a charge to provide additional information. These do not need to be proved in court.
This publication includes statistics on a subset of the full set of aggravator/identifier codes on the CHS. The set of aggravators published covers disability, racial, religious, sexual orientation and transgender. The legislation creating these aggravators is outlined in Annex C. In addition, 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 the use of this aggravator appear in this bulletin.
Information on people convicted of charges with a domestic abuse identifier is also published.
Please note that statistics on bail aggravators, which identify offences that were committed while the offender was on bail, are not included in this publication but are available for download from the “Additional data” page.
Statistics on aggravators
Please be aware that a single proceeding can have more than one aggravator recorded against it e.g. “domestic” and “disability”. In this case the same proceeding would be counted twice in the aggravator tables but once in the main court tables.
There were 9,782 convictions with a domestic abuse identifier in 2017-18, a 10% decrease from 2016-17 (10,836 convictions). Levels are still 14% higher than when numbers were at their lowest (2010-11, 8,566 convictions). The fall is proportionate to the overall fall in numbers of proceedings.
The new statutory domestic aggravator, in use for the first time in 2017-18, has been applied to 4,253, or 43% of convictions with a domestic identifier – it is never applied to a proceeding without the non-statutory identifier. Some of the cases with a domestic abuse identifier disposed of in 2017-18 will relate to offences committed prior to the introduction of the statutory aggravator.
Chart 11: The number of convictions by crime with a domestic abuse identifier
In 2017-18 the vast majority of people convicted of an offence with a domestic abuse identifier recorded were male (8,618 convictions or 88%). This proportion has declined by three percentage points since 2008-09 when the proportion of males convicted with a domestic abuse identifier recorded stood at 91%.
In 2017-18 the most common crime types with a domestic abuse identifier recorded against a conviction were:
- Breach of the peace, which made up 44% of domestic abuse convictions (4,286 convictions). The vast majority of these breach of the peace-type convictions (88% or 3,759 convictions) were for offences of “threatening or abusive behaviour” or stalking.
- Common assault (28% or 2,696 convictions); and
- Crimes against public justice (18% or 1,771 convictions).
After the domestic abuse aggravator, the next most common types of aggravators recorded in 2017-18 were:
- Racial (650 convictions);
- Sexual orientation (354 convictions); and
- Religious (249 convictions).
Convictions with racial and religious aggravators have fallen by 10% since 2016-17, which mirrors the overall trend in convictions. In contrast, convictions with aggravators relating to sexual orientation fell by only one per cent and with aggravators relating to disability increased by nine per cent.
14. Age and Gender
In 2017-18 there were 17 convictions per 1,000 population (approaching one in every 60 people). There were more convictions for males at 28 convictions per 1,000 population compared to six for females.
The overall number of convictions per 1,000 population has declined over the last ten years from 26 convictions per 1,000 population in 2008-09. The number dropped to 21 convictions per 1,000 by 2012-13 and after two years of small rises, has now been falling since 2014-15. The decline has been driven by a decrease for males, down to 28 convictions per 1,000 population in 2017-18 from 46 in 2008-09. The number for females has remained more stable over the ten years, with an overall decline from eight to six convictions per 1,000 population in 2017-18.
Chart 12: Convictions per 1,000 population by gender, 2008-09 to 2017-18
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 steep fall in the number of convictions per 1,000 population for younger people, especially younger men. For older people (aged 31 or above), the number has also been on a downward trend over the last decade, but the fall has not been as consistent as for younger people and has been more gradual.
In 2008-09, the age group with the highest numbers of convictions per thousand population was those aged 18-20 with 81 convictions per 1,000 population. Since then, the age group with the highest number of convictions per 1,000 population has increased. In 2017-18, the highest number of convictions per 1,000 population was for the 21-30 age group overall (35 per 1,000), although looking at women specifically, the highest number of convictions per thousand population falls into the slightly older 31-40 age group.
Convictions by gender/age and crime type
Males accounted for 82% of all convictions in 2017-18, one percentage point lower than 2016-17. More males than females were convicted in all crime/offence categories except for offences associated with prostitution (66% of all convictions were for females).
Whilst females accounted for 18% of all convictions, they accounted for relatively higher proportions of convictions for the following crime types in 2017-18:
- 49% (74 convictions) of other non-sexual crimes of violence. The vast majority of these were for “cruelty to and unnatural treatment of children” convictions;
- 37% (173 convictions) of all fraud convictions; and
- 33% (37 convictions) of all ‘other crimes’ convictions.
Compared to older people, a larger proportion of convictions for people under 21 are for crimes of public justice and common assault. For example, more than a quarter (28%) of convictions for females under 21 were for common assault with the corresponding figure for males being 16%. By contrast common assault accounted for smaller proportions of convictions for both men and women aged over 40 (10 and 11% for males and females respectively).
Convictions for motor vehicle offences accounted for higher proportions of convictions for those aged over 40; 41% of males and females convicted. This compares to the under 21-age group where 22% of males and females respectively were convicted of motor vehicle offences.
Sentencing by gender and age
Chart 13: Total Convictions and Disposal Type by gender, 2017-18
Overall, males are more likely to receive a custodial sentence than females. This is illustrated by males accounting for 82% of all people convicted in 2017-18 but representing a higher proportion of all custodial sentences (91%). Females were more likely to be issued with an “Other sentence” with 28% of these types of punishments having been given to females compared to the 18% of all convictions that females represent.
Please note that sentencing decisions are reflective of a number of factors such as the severity of the crime and whether the individual has offended in the past. In addition, the decision on what type of punishment is reasonable will be based on the personal circumstances of the offender. These statistics do not take account of these factors. The Reconviction Rates in Scotland National Statistics present analyses on the last sentence received in a financial year, by the number and type of previous crimes and sentences.
Chart 14: Change in number of disposals by age and gender, 2008-09 to 2017-18
Table 11 illustrates different patterns by age and gender over the last ten years. Chart 14 above summarises the main changes between 2008-09 and 2017-18. In summary:
- In every disposal group, there are falls in numbers of convictions. This fits with the overall fall in convictions, although the largest and most consistent falls are seen in financial penalties.
- Financial penalties are the disposal types where the trend is in decline for all age-gender groups, with the largest decreases being for the under 21 year-old males, and generally larger falls for younger ages.
- With respect to custodial sentences, numbers for males have fallen by 29% per cent (with a notable decrease of 73% for under-21s), whereas numbers of custodial sentences for females have only decreased by 16%, with more than 50% falls for under 30s, and more than 50% increases for over 30s; and
- Community sentences have seen a fall of six per cent, although all of the decreases are seen in the under-30s age groups, the over-30s increasing by similar proportions. The number of community sentences for females and males over 40 has increased by 65% and 60% respectively since 2008-09.
15. Police Disposals
This section outlines detail on some of the measures available to the police for dealing with minor offences rather than referring individuals to the COPFS and therefore potentially to court. Statistics are presented on Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices (ASBFPNs), Recorded Police Warnings (RPW) and actions used specifically for juveniles (aged 8 to 17) such as Restorative Justice Warnings and Early and Effective Interventions (EEI). Formal Adult Warnings were phased out following the introduction of RPWs in January 2016.
In 2008-09, there were 58,846 police disposals, the peak of the last decade occurred in 2009-10 at 72,173, but there has now been an overall 41% decline from 2008-09 to 34,681.
At their peak, ASBFPNs accounted for around three-quarters of the police disposals presented in this publication, but their use has declined since 2013-14 to make up only 38% this year, the most used police disposal in 2017-18 (61%) now being Recorded Police Warnings. It is important to note, however, that there are other types of police measures not included in these statistics such as fixed penalty notices for moving motor vehicle offences and other youth justice measures. A more detailed listing of the disposals available in this publication can be seen in Annex D.
Chart 15: Police disposals by type in 2017-18
Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices
Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices (ASBFPNs) allow the police to issue offenders a £40 fine for a range of offences including drunken-related behaviours and playing loud music. In 2017-18, 11,008 people received an ASBFPN as a main penalty, a decrease of 28% from 15,384 in 2016-17. Levels have decreased for the fourth year in a row after a period of relative stability between 2010-11 and 2013-14 (over 50,000 ASBFPNs per annum). It is thought that some of the decline may be due to Police Scotland issuing revised guidance around the use of ASBFPN, and there may be some displacement by the use of Recorded Police Warnings.
Chart 16: Most common offences for Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices (ASBFPNs), 2017-18
In 2017-18 the vast majority of ASBFPNs were issued for three offence types:
- 5,962 for breach of the peace (54%);
- 2,122 for urinating etc. in circumstances causing annoyance to others (19% of total); and
- 2,108 for consuming alcohol in a public place (19%).
Males received 84% of all ASBFPNs in 2017-18 (9,263 people) with the most common offences being for breach of the peace etc. (51% of ASBFPNs issued to males) followed by urinating etc. (22%). ASBFPNs issued to females (1,744 people in total) were primarily issued for breach of the peace (69% of ASBFPNs to females) and consuming alcohol in a public place (16%).
Recorded Police Warnings
The use of Recorded Police Warnings (RPWs) grew quickly after their introduction in January 2016, becoming the most used police disposal in 2016-17 (19,672 issued). In 2017-18, use has fallen by 12% to 17,291, but they now make up 50% of all police disposals, compared to 47% in 2016-17.
77% of RPWs were issued in 2017-18 for offences that fall into the ‘Other’ category. This includes things such as possession of drugs, threatening or abusive behaviour and shoplifting. Similarly to ASBFPNs, the majority of the rest were public nuisance offences such as consuming alcohol in a public place (10%) and breach of the peace (five per cent). Males received 72% of all RPWs in 2017-18, a lower proportion than received ASBFPNs, but a higher proportion of males (11%) received an RPW for consuming alcohol in a public place than females (6%).
The introduction of RPWs was coincident with the phasing out of Formal Adult Warnings (FAWs) and use fell by 91% between 2015-2016 and 2016-17. Only 203 FAWs were recorded in 2017-18, are they should disappear from the records completely in the near future.
Police disposals for children and young people involved in offending
This section provides statistics on some of the police disposals that specifically target children and young people, under the age of 18, involved in offending. The disposals we have information for are Early and Effective Interventions (EEIs) and Restorative Justice Warnings as recorded on the Criminal History System (CHS).
Please note that these statistics are not a full measure of disposals for under-18s as there are a number of other measures managed by the police and other public bodies that we cannot quantify levels for.
There are a number of routes for dealing with young people who have offended in Scotland as follows:
- Increasingly, the Whole System Approach (WSA) is used to deal with young people aged 8 to 17. Following the preventing offending framework in 2008 and a WSA pilot in 2010, this approach was rolled out across Scotland in 2011 to encourage justice partners to channel young people away from the adult courts and hearing system. One approach used by the police to respond to the needs of children who offend is Early and Effective Intervention (EEI). Early and Effective Intervention is a multi-agency response to low level offending, typically offences of a less serious nature, which might previously have automatically resulted in referral to the Children’s Reporter. The EEI process runs differently in each Local Authority and the involvement of the police can be different in each Local Authority. For these reasons, the statistics presented here should be seen as a minimum indication of EEI activity.
- Other young people are referred to the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), which manages the children’s hearing system. This is a needs based system, including responding to occasions when children offend, rather than exposing them to the adult courts, which can be a damaging experience. The police can use a number of ways to refer individuals to SCRA such as restorative justice warnings, the disposal for which statistics are available. It is important to note that other organisations such as COPFS, social work and educational bodies can also make referrals to SCRA, though such referrals are not included in the statistics in this report, and can be found elsewhere.
- Depending on their age and the nature of the offence some young people who have offended move through the Criminal Justice System in the same way as adults i.e. they are issued a disposal by the police, COPFS or the adult courts. This tends to happen for young people accused of more serious crimes with activity for these cases included within the statistics elsewhere in the report. No one under the age of 12 can be prosecuted in the adult courts in Scotland.
- The focus of EEIs is to respond as quickly as possible to offending behaviour by children and young people and to put in place appropriate support with the aim of reducing the likelihood of reoffending. Practices vary by local authority with a range of agencies (police, education, social work and the third sector) being involved.
Trends in Police Disposals for Young People
In terms of police disposals specifically aimed at young people involved in offending, Restorative Justice Warnings have been in decline from 2,457 people in 2008-09 to 378 people in 2017-18, but numbers have fluctuated since 2014-15.
By contrast, the number of young people referred for EEI increased steadily since their introduction in 2008-09 rising to 2,598 people by 2011-12. In the three years between 2011-12 and 2015-16 numbers more than doubled to 6,654 people as the use of these practices became more commonplace. In 2017-18, the total number fell by seven per cent to 5,707, though this is in the context of an overall fall in police disposals of 17%.
16. Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Disposals
When a report is submitted by the police to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), prosecution in court is only one of a range of possible options for dealing with people who have been charged. The COPFS can decide to take no action e.g. if there is insufficient evidence, or if it is not in the public interest to proceed. Alternatively, the COPFS can decide to use a non-court direct measure such as a fiscal fine or a diversion from prosecution.
Of the COPFS disposals included in this publication for 2017-18, around 54% were fiscal fines (22,686 people) with a further 15% being fiscal fixed penalties (6,544). The newly-included category of Fiscal Warnings made up 22% of all COPFS disposals (9,389). The remainder were made up of compensation orders, where the accused pays a prescribed sum of money to court and it is then remitted to the victim, and combined offers which comprise a fine and a compensation element. A full listing of the range of disposals available can be seen in Annex D.
Procurator Fiscal Warnings (FW) are reported for the first time this year, and have been included from 2012-13 onwards (earlier figures obtained from COPFS can be seen in table 1). These disposals provide a method of dealing with a case that doesn’t involve prosecution, and if someone receives a FW, they can’t be prosecuted for that specific offence in the future. Different recording practices before this date meant that it wasn’t possible to present older figures.
In 2017-18, there has been an increase of eight per cent from 8,662 Fiscal Warnings in 2016-17 to 9,389. The numbers have been relatively steady at between 8,600 and 9,400 per year since 2013-14, apart from a spike of around 14,000 in 2015-16.
Fiscal Work Orders (FWO) were introduced across Scotland in April 2015 and provide the COPFS with the option of offering an alleged offender a period of unpaid work of between 10 and 50 hours, as an alternative to prosecution. Successful completion of the order discharges the right to prosecute. We are currently unable to derive statistics on Fiscal Work Orders due to uncertainty around the recording of this information on the Criminal History System. Work is ongoing to resolve this issue, with the intention of publishing FWO statistics in the future.
Chart 17: COPFS Disposals by type, 2017-18
Fiscal fines of between £50 and £300 can be offered to the alleged offender by the COPFS as an alternative to prosecution. Where a fiscal fine is accepted, the accused cannot be prosecuted, but if the fine is unpaid, it can be enforced through the courts. If the fine is actively rejected, prosecution for the original offence will normally follow.
In 2017-18 there were 22,686 people issued a fiscal fine as a main penalty, an increase of four per cent from 21,823 in 2016-17, the first such increase since their use peaked in 2012-13. Fiscal fines were most commonly issued for the following crimes:
- 31% were for Other miscellaneous offences (7,002 fines);
- 19% were for Drugs (4,284 fines); and
- 18% were for Unlawful use of vehicle, which totalled 4,167 fines.
The majority (63%) of all fiscal fines in 2017-18 were issued to males (14,331 fines). The most noticeable differences for males and females for which fiscal fines were issued are presented in Chart 18. For example 26% of fiscal fines issued to males were for drugs offences compared to seven per cent for females and 19% of fiscal fines overall.
Chart 18: Fiscal fines, percentage issued by crime type and gender
Fiscal fixed penalties
Crown Office Fixed Penalties (COFPs) are generally issued for certain road traffic/motor vehicle offences and can involve a fine or a fine and points. The amount of the fine is prescribed by law. In 2017-18, 6,544 COFPs were issued to people as a main penalty, a decrease of 22% from 8,430 in 2016-17. This is the fourth annual decline, with the number issued now being only 28% of the level in 2013-14 (23,487 COFPs). This is related to a fall in the number of Road Traffic offences reported by the police.
The decrease was driven by a fall in penalties for:
- “Other motor vehicle offences” (including mobile phone offences and seatbelt offences) down 60% to 406 from 1,008.
- “Signal and direction offences” down 20% to 812 from 1,013; and
- “Documentation offences” down 19% to 1,365 from 1,691.
Chart 19: Most common offences for Fiscal Fixed Penalties, 2017-18
The most common crime COFPs were issued for in 2017-18 was for speeding offences (3,236 penalties), which made up almost half (49%). After this COFPs were most commonly issued for the following crimes:
- 21% were for Documentation offences (such as using a vehicle without a test certificate, without a licence or failure to insure), totalling 1,365;
- 12% were for Signal and direction offences, totalling 812 penalties; and
- 8% were for “Lighting, construction and use offences”, which includes mobile phone and seatbelt offences, totalling 529 penalties.
In 2017-18, more than three-quarters (78% or 5,199 of COFPs were issued to males and a third (33% or 2,174) of all COFPs were issued to males aged over 40.
When a person has been arrested or charged by the police, the police may decide to keep the person in custody. The police will submit a report to the COPFS in respect of the person in custody and where the COPFS decide that he or she is to be prosecuted, they will appear at court on the first lawful day after they were taken into police custody. At this point the accused may apply for bail and the sheriff or judge will decide whether the accused should be released on bail until they next need to appear in court for later stages of the proceedings.
In some circumstances, where the individual is not merely cited to appear at a later date, the police may decide to release the individual on an undertaking. This means the accused will have their initial appearance in court at a later date.
On 25th January 2018 the law applicable to undertakings was changed, and is now as set out in sections 25-30 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. The conditions attached to an undertaking are that the person should not commit an offence, interfere with witnesses or evidence, or otherwise obstruct the course of justice, or behave in a manner which causes, or is likely to cause, alarm or distress to witnesses. Any further condition that a constable considers necessary and proportionate for the purpose of ensuring that these conditions are observed may also be imposed.
Please note that four additional tables on bail are available for download from the “Additional data” page. These include bail statistics by court type as well as age and gender. One of the tables presents bail aggravators i.e. offences that were committed while the offender was on bail.
Bail orders made, and by main crime type
The number of bail orders decreased by 13% from 42,277 in 2016-17 to 36,853 in 2017-18. Over the longer term, numbers have fallen by 30% since 2008-09, and there have only been two years in which there was an increase (in 2011-12 and 2013-14).
In the year to 2017-18, there were annual decreases in most categories, the exceptions being in sexual crimes (up 16% to 1,590 bail orders) and handling offensive weapons (up 12% to 1,422).
Bail-related offences cover the offences of breach of bail conditions (e.g. interfering with a witness) and failure to appear in court after being granted bail. There were 6,940 convictions for bail-related offences in 2017-18, a decrease of 10% on 2016-17 (7,702).
The proportion of bail-related offences as a percentage of all bail orders granted in 2017-18 was 19%. This has remained fairly constant since 2008-09.
In 2017-18 there were 17,644 undertakings to appear in court, a rise of 22% from 2016-17 (14,442 undertakings). This is the first increase since 2010-11 when there was a peak of 27,297 undertakings, and the total had declined every year since. This may be related to changes introduced by the Criminal Justice (Scotland) 2016 Act - Part I (Police powers), which transferred written undertaking provisions from the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
More than three-quarters of undertakings were issued to males in 2017-18 (13,405 people), compared to 79% of all undertakings in 2009-10, the first year for which this data is available. The proportion of young people being issued with an undertaking has continued to decline with 14% of undertakings being issued to under-21 year olds in 2017-18 compared to 25% in 2009-10.
Email: Ian Volante
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