1. Trends in people proceeded against and convicted
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. If there are multiple charges libelled on a Complaint or Indictment, and thereafter proven against an accused in a single proceeding, the main charge is the crime or offence receiving the most severe penalty (as defined in Annex C). The final column of table 4(b) provides counts of individual crimes or offences with a charge proven regardless of whether or not it was the main crime or offence involved. Please note that where an accused is subject to multiple separate proceedings, that accused is counted multiple times in the figures presented in this bulletin.
A total of 89,733 people were proceeded against in Court in 2018-19, a fall of 6% on 2017-18 (95,557 proceedings). The number of convictions fell at the same rate, down 6% to 78,503 from 2017-18 (83,179). 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 2018-19 were 35% lower than the ten-year high of 121,041 in 2009-10.
The fall in the number of convictions in the last year has been led by afall in breach of the peace convictions (down 13% to 11,904 convictions in 2018-19), common assault convictions (down 12% to 8,726) and crimes against public justice convictions (down 11% to 7,243). Together these 3 crimes and offences represented a large number of convictions, making up 38% of convictions in 2017-18 and 36% in 2018-19. The conviction rates for these crimes are almost unchanged.
2. Trends in conviction rates
Conviction rates are calculated by dividing the number of people convicted by the number of people proceeded against. Care should be taken when interpreting data on conviction rates. Convictions rates are dependent on a number of factors, including the strength of evidence available; and the complexity of the case. However, all convictions are wholly dependent upon the decision of the fact-finder hearing the evidence in the case. A high conviction rate could indicate that cases brought to court are evidentially strong or straightforward (for example road traffic offences), but it could also indicate that cases which are evidentially weak, for instance, lacking sufficient admissible evidence are not reaching court. Conversely, a low conviction rate could indicate that the highly complex or evidentially difficult cases are brought to Court, but, the fact-finder (the judge or jury) is unwilling to accept the evidence provided by the prosecutor and thereafter unable to convict the accused.
Eighty-seven per cent of people proceeded against in court in 2018-19 were convicted after being found guilty of at least one charge (78,503 people). This remains unchanged from 2017-18. The conviction rate for all crimes and offences has remained relatively stable over the last decade, sitting between 86% and 89% in each year.
Conviction rates are highest for motor vehicle offences, with 94% of people proceeded against being convicted in 2018-19. In particular, speeding offences had a conviction rate of 99%. Apart from motor vehicle offences, the highest conviction rate for a crime was 93%, recorded for shoplifting, whilst the lowest rate was for rape and attempted rape (47%), four percentage points higher than in 2017-18. The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape has been the lowest of all crimes in each of the last ten years. Further detail of acquittals with respect to rape and attempted rape can be seen in section 3.
Over the last ten years, the most notable declines in conviction rates have been for:
- sexual assault, down 17 percentage points from 73% in 2009-10 to 56% in 2018-19 (reaching its lowest rate of the last ten years); and
- mobile phone offences, down 11 percentage points from 95% in 2009-10 to 84% in 2018-19.
3. Acquittals by crime type
When an accused person is found not guilty of a charge, or the charge is not proven, this is called an 'acquittal'. In 2018-19, 5% of people were acquitted on a 'not guilty' verdict, and 1% were acquitted on a 'not proven' verdict. A further 6% 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 five years.
Chart 3 shows the crime types with the highest acquittal rates in comparison with the overall rate of 6% in 2018-19:
- as in previous years, the highest rate was seen for rape and attempted rape, where 52% or 168 people of the 324 proceeded against were acquitted
- there were also high acquittal rates for sexual assault (39% had their case acquitted), and
- the highest rate of acquittals for non-sexual crimes was the 25% of cases of attempted murder and serious assault.
4. People convicted by court type
There are four 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. For solemn cases the maximum penalty is 5 years' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine and for summary cases, the maximum penalty that may be imposed (in most circumstances) is 1 year's imprisonment and/or a £10,000 fine, and
- The Justice of the Peace courts. These deal with the less serious crimes, such as speeding, shoplifting 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. They can impose custodial sentences of up to 60 days and fines up to £2,500.
Chart 4 shows the changes in the proportion of cases seen in each court type relative to 2009-10. It can be seen that the largest increase has been in Sheriff Solemn courts, having risen from 3% of all cases in 2009-10 to 5% in 2018-19. This increase in the proportion of more serious cases is likely to be partly responsible for the increase in sentence lengths since 2009-10. The proportion of cases seen in High Court has been broadly steady over the last decade, although has exhibited a slow increase in recent years.
There has been little change in the proportion seen in Sheriff Summary courts, where there were 59% of convictions in 2018-19, a fall from 62% in 2017-18, but very similar to most years in the previous decade.
Justice of the Peace courts account for 35% of convictions in 2018-19 compared to 38% in 2009-10. This shows a slight proportional reduction in cases coming to JP courts during that period, although a low-point was reached in 2017-18 at 33%. The rise in 2018-19 may be due to the increase in the proportion of convictions for motor vehicle offences.
- The number of convictions in Justice of the Peace courts has fallen by 1% from 27,444 in 2017-18 to 27,144 in 2018-19. This represents a levelling of the decline which followed relatively high levels in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The long-term fall in numbers of convictions for motor offences, which the JP courts tend to deal with, has slowed this year.
- Convictions in Sheriff Summary courts fell by 9% to 46,559 in 2018-19 from 51,229 in 2017-18. This continues the general downward trend in sheriff summary convictions since 2009-10.
- The number of convictions in Sheriff Solemn courts increased by 8% in 2018-19 to 4,215 convictions, from 3,908 in 2017-18.
- The number of High Court convictions decreased by 2% in 2018-19 to 585 convictions (from 598 in 2017-18) – this is the lowest number of High Court convictions in the last decade, although, proportionally, this represents an increase. 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, and will likely be revised upwards next year.
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 generally be considered to be more serious, there are some "offences" that have more severe punishments associated with them than "crimes". The Scottish Government has recently consulted about changing the classification of some of these and future publications may reflect the change. See Annex D for a full listing of the classification as it stands.
In 2018-19 "crimes" made up 28,458 of the total number of convictions (36%) while "offences" stood at 50,045 (64%). The decrease from 2017-18 was marginally higher for offences (down 6% in 2018-19) than for crimes (down 4%). Falls in convictions for crimes have been driven by reductions in the number of 'Other crimes' (down 8% or 1,196 convictions). The largest contributors to this decrease were convictions for crimes against public justice and drugs-related crimes.
Most of the decrease in convictions for offences is due to falls in the number of convictions for miscellaneous offences. In particular, convictions for common assault and breach of the peace (down 1,770 and 1,175 convictions respectively).
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. Convictions for these types of crimes fell by 3% in the past year, from 1,829 in 2017-18 to 1,781 in 2018-19.
The only increase for an individual crime type within non-sexual crimes of violence was for other non-sexual crimes of violence, which rose by 8% from 154 in 2017-18 (the lowest value in ten years) to 167 in 2018-19.
There were small reductions in the number of convictions for all other types of non-sexual crimes of violence. Homicide convictions fell by 9% from 89 convictions in 2017-18 to 81, the second-lowest number in the last ten years. The number of convictions for robbery declined by 12%, from 410 convictions in 2017-18 to 361 in 2018-19. Convictions for attempted murder and serious assault decreased slightly to 1,172 in 2018-19, and now are 22% below their 2009-10 level (1,511 convictions). However, it remains 12% above its lowest value from the last decade of 1,043 in 2013-14. Since 2015-16, the number of convictions for attempted murder and serious assault has remained between 1,100 and 1,200.
Sexual crimes was the only crime group where the number of convictions has increased compared to 2017-18. The number of convictions for sexual crimes is now at its highest level since 2009-10, with 1,215 convictions in 2018-19. This is 9% higher than in 2017-18, when there were 1,112 convictions. Convictions for sexual crimes are now 61% higher than their lowest point in the last decade in 2010-11 (756 convictions). The rise in part reflects a corresponding rise in the number of people being proceeded against in Court, up 89% since 2010-11 from 933 proceedings to 1,762 in 2018-19, the highest number this decade.
The number of convictions for rape and attempted rape increased by 43% (from 106 in 2017-18 to 152 in 2018-19). The number of proceedings for these crimes rose by 32% to 324 in 2018-19, from 246 in 2017-18. The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape increased this year by four percentage points to 47%, 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 proceedings and convictions for rape and attempted rape for 2018-19 may be slightly underestimated.
The number of sexual assault convictions is down by 3% in 2018-19 at 292 convictions compared to 300 in 2017-18. This remains a notably high number in comparison to the previous decade, and is almost twice as many as in 2009-10 (159 convictions).
Chart 5 shows that over the last decade, other sexual crimes have grown as a proportion of all sexual crimes to make up the majority (60%) of all crimes in this category. The number of convictions in this category has almost doubled in the last decade, from 366 in 2009-10, to 734 in 2018-19. This also represents an 11% increase in the past year, from 659 convictions in 2017-18. The long-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". Further information can be found in the study into recorded 'other sexual crimes' which was published by the Scottish Government in 2017.
Crimes of dishonesty
Convictions for crimes of dishonesty, as shown in chart 6, have steadily declined in the last ten years down from 15,951 in 2009-10 to 9,771 convictions in 2018-19 (a drop of 39%).
The total number of proceedings has declined at the same rate, down 39% from 17,902 in 2009-10 to 10,931 in 2018-19.
Convictions for crimes of dishonesty declined by 1% in 2018-19, down to 9,771 convictions from 9,862 in 2017-18. There were declines in most crime types within crimes of dishonesty between 2017-18 and 2018-19, including:
- a 13% decline in fraud convictions from 471 to 408; this is now 64% lower than in 2009-10 (1,142 convictions) and
- a 6% decline in housebreaking convictions, from 805 to 751 convictions.
- There were increases compared to last year in numbers of convictions for 'theft by opening lockfast places' (up 10% compared to 2017-18), 'theft from a motor vehicle' (up 32%) and shoplifting (up 5%).
- Shoplifting convictions have fallen by 27% since 2009-10, more slowly than all of the other crimes within this group (down 39%).
7. People convicted by offence group
There were 50,045 "offence" convictions in 2018-19. As a proportion of all offences, common assault and breach of the peace together made up 41%, while speeding and unlawful use of a vehicle accounted for 33%. There is some variation year-to-year, but in total, these crimes have increased from 69% of offences in 2009-10 to 73% in 2018-19, mostly due to larger declines in convictions in other categories.
Motor vehicle offences
Motor vehicle offence convictions declined by 1% from 27,669 convictions in 2017-18 to 27,504 in 2018-19. This represents a slowing down of the general longer-term downward trend following a marked rise of 14% in 2013-14. Since 2009-10, overall declines have occurred across all categories of motor vehicle offences.
While overall convictions have declined since 2009-10, there were some increases in motor vehicle offence convictions over the last year. The crime groups which increased the most between 2017-18 and 2018-19 were for:
- seat belt offences, up 143% from 86 convictions to 209; and
- vehicle defect offences, up 15% from 981 to 1,128.
The increases follow notably low numbers of convictions for these kind of offences in 2017-18, and numbers remain below 2016-17 levels.
Crimes with the largest decreases since 2017-18 were:
- mobile phone offences, down 20% from 864 convictions to 692; and
- dangerous and careless driving, down 18% from 3,813 convictions to 3,117.
There were 3,558 convictions in 2018-19 for driving under the influence, which is 3% below the figure of 3,660 in 2017-18. This represents a 43% fall in the number of convictions for this offence since 2009-10 (when there were 6,232 convictions). Most of this fall occurred in the years to 2014-15; since then there have been around 3,600 convictions a year. 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. Further investigation is required to establish the impact of the reduced blood alcohol limit on behaviour.
Ninety-two per cent of "miscellaneous offences" are breach of the peace and common assault offences. Both groups showed decreases in convictions between 2017-18 and 2018-19, with the breach of the peace category down 13% from 13,674 to 11,904 convictions, and common assault, down 12% from 9,901 to 8,726 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 2018-19:
- 48% were issued financial penalties (37,294)
- 19% were issued community sentences (13,783), and
- 16% were issued custodial sentences (12,220).
A further 18% of people were issued other sentences (13,783), which are mostly admonishments.
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.
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.
The number of custodial sentences, in contrast with other sentence types, rose by 2% (from 11,980 in 2017-18 to 12,220 in 2018-19). Prior to this the number of custodial sentences had declined every year since the peak of 15,950 in 2011-12. Despite the increase in the most recent year, the number of custodial sentences is still 23% below that level. Custodial sentences represented 16% of all convictions in 2018-19, this being the highest value recorded in the past decade.
This overall 2% increase in the number of custodial sentences masks larger changes at a crime group level. There have been increases of 8%, 16% and 9% respectively for non-sexual crimes of violence, sexual crimes and crimes of dishonesty, almost balanced by falls in miscellaneous offences and motor vehicle offences.
Notable changes at a crime level include a 22% increase (to 1,824) in custodial sentences for shoplifting, a 19% increase (to 601) for handling offensive weapons, and a 14% increase (to 656) for attempted murder and serious assault.
Extended sentences and Supervised Release Orders
Extended sentences and supervised release ordersare 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 little change in their use this year (from 449 in 2017-18 to 455 in 2018-19). This combined total issued has remained between 400 and 550 per year 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. Experimental statistics have been released alongside this bulletin which present some data on this topic.
Length of custodial sentences
All but one of the 37 people issued life sentences in 2018-19 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
Note that life sentences and OLRs are not included in calculations for average life sentence as they are of indeterminate length. Although a minimum term in custody is specified, the actual time in custody will depend on decisions by the Parole Board and they may spend longer in custody than the minimum specified. Data on the average length of the punishment part of life sentences and OLRs is published in an experimental statistics paper alongside this bulletin.
The average length of custodial sentences for all crimes, excluding life sentences, in 2018-19 was more than ten and a half months (326 days), which is 3% longer than in 2017-18 (317 days). Over the longer term, there has been a general upward trend in average sentence length, and they are now 16% longer than in 2009/10 (281 days).
The largest components of this increase in 2018-19 have been increased numbers and lengths of sentences for rape and attempted rape, attempted murder and serious assault, and handling offensive weapons. Since 2009-10, the largest components of the increase in average sentence lengths are due to sentences for rape and attempted rape, and breach of the peace etc. Even though the numbers of custodial sentences for breach of the peace have fallen by 6%, the sentence length has increased from 115 days in 2009-10 to 155 days in 2018-19.
Categories of custodial sentence length
The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 commenced in February 2011 and introduced a presumption against short sentences (PASS) (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.
In June 2019, the extension of the presumption to 12 months or less was approved by the Scottish Parliament. This came into force on 4 July 2019 in relation to offences committed from then and does not apply to the statistics in this bulletin. Initial monitoring data on the extended presumption, covering the period July to December 2019, was published on 25 February 2020.
Chart 8 illustrates patterns of custodial sentence length by specific categories. In 2009-10, the most common length was "up to 3 months" (5,919 people), which made up 38% of custodial sentences. Over the ten-year period, levels have dropped with sentences of "up to 3 months" making up 26% of custodial sentences in 2018-19. These sentences started to fall before the presumption against sentences of three months or less was introduced.
Figures show that:
- custodial sentences of "over 3 months to 6 months" accounted for 4,957 custodial sentences in 2009-10 (31%) and rose to 6,153 (39%) by 2011-12, immediately after the presumption against short sentences of 3 months or less was implemented. The number had declined to 4,279 (35%) by 2018-19
- sentences of "over 6 months to 1 year" made up 2,250 sentences in 2009-10 (14%), rising to 2,162 by 2018-19 (18%)
- the number of custodial sentences "over one year to 2 years" has also been increasing. There were 1,269 in 2009-10 (8%), rising to 1,468 by 2018-19 (12%)
- the number of custodial sentences of"2 years to under 4 years" has declined from 834 (5%) in 2009-10 to 644 (5%) in 2018-19, and
- "4 years and over" has changed little over the last ten years, from 552 (3%) in 2009-10 to 497 (4%) in 2018-19
- In total, the proportion of sentences of up to one year in length has declined slowly over the last decade, from 83% in 2009-10 to 79% in 2018-19.
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-four per cent, or 60 of the 81 people convicted of homicide in 2018-19 were given a custodial sentence, a four percentage-point increase on the 2017-18 figure of 70%. During the period from 2009-10 to 2013-14, the proportion of homicide convictions receiving custodial sentences was more than 80%. Since then, it has been between 69% and 75%. This can mostly 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 are more likely to have imposed non-custodial sentences as the sentencing disposal than other types of homicide. In the five years to 2013-14, 14% of homicide convictions were for death by careless driving, and in the latter five years, this proportion increased to 30%. Of all non-custodial homicide sentences, 93% of them were for death by careless driving since 2014-15.
Sixty per cent of custodial sentences for homicide were life sentences imposed for murder (36 people), an increase compared to 2017-18 (43%, 27 people). The remainder, who were convicted for other types of homicide, were given an average sentence of around six years and three months (2,312 days), two-and-a-half months (78 days) less than in 2017-18 (2,390 days), but still higher than most years in the last decade.
Other changes in average custodial sentence lengths for non-sexual crimes of violence between 2017-18 and 2018-19 are as follow:
- A decrease of 4% (40 days) for "attempted murder and serious assault" (an average of 914 days given on average in 2018-19);
- Little change for robbery (down 3 days, to 797 days); and
- An increase of 21% for other non-sexual crimes of violence, (up by 176 to 1,075 days), this makes it the highest value in the last decade. This is a relatively small group, with a total of 39 people receiving a custodial sentence in 2018-19, and the average is 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 93% 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). The average sentence length for this kind of crime increased in 2018-19, up 48 days (2%) to 2,626 days (more than seven years), the highest average sentence for rape and attempted rape of the last ten years.
1 - Excludes crime types where the number of people sentenced to prison is fewer than 30.
Sexual assault sentences were, on average, 148 days (15%) shorter than in 2017-18, falling to 828 days (around 2 years and 3 months) in 2018-19. This is the shortest average sentence for this crime in the last ten years.
Custodial Sentences for Crimes of Dishonesty
Overall, the average custodial sentence length for crimes of dishonesty decreased from 208 days in 2017-18 to 190 days in 2018-19; a fall of 9%. However, this was still 39 days longer (26%) than in 2009-10 when the average was 151 days.
Other changes for crimes of dishonesty included:
Around 65% of housebreaking convictions received custodial sentences in 2018-19, up 1% from 2017-18. This is the highest proportion of custodial sentences imposed for housebreaking convictions in the last decade. In 2018-19, the average custodial sentence for housebreaking was more than a year (407 days), a 34-day (8%) decrease from 2017-18 when it was 441 days. The average sentence length remains 68% longer it was in 2009-10 (242 days).
The proportion of convictions for fraud that resulted in a custodial sentence was 28% in 2018-19, no change on the previous year. The average sentence length has increased by 57% since 2009-10 up to 355 days, although this is 8% below the ten-year high point of 387 days in 2017-18.
Custodial Sentences for Handling Offensive Weapons
Sections 47 and 49 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995make 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 1,576 people convicted of "handling offensive weapons" in 2018-19, of which almost two-thirds (64%) were for carrying knives i.e. "having in a public place an article with a blade or point" (1,006 convictions). Compared to last year these changes represent increases of 7% and 5% respectively, but numbers of convictions are around two-thirds of what they were in 2009-10. The remainder of offensive weapons convictions 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||2,838||1,454||1,496|
|% receiving a custodial sentence||32%||35%||40%|
|Average custodial sentence (days)||269||354||358|
|Knife offences only: "Having in a public place an article with a blade or point"||Number convicted||1,443||941||955|
|% receiving a custodial sentence||40%||39%||43%|
|Average custodial sentence (days)||284||356||382|
The proportion of convictions for handling offensive weapons which received a custodial sentence increased to 38% in 2018-19, the highest rate seen since 2012-13, and six percentage points higher than in 2009-10. The proportion of custodial sentences given specifically for knife offences has also increased (up to 41% in 2018-19 compared to 40% in 2009-10).
As seen in Chart A below, there has been a shift in the age profile of persons being convicted for handling offensive weapons since 2009-10. In 2009-10, 30% of convictions were in the over-30s group, and 37% were for people under 22 years of age. We now see half (50%) of all offensive weapon convictions in the over 30s, and under a fifth (19%) for those aged under 22, 5% being for under-18s. Whilst this is the case, the number of convictions has fallen across all age groups.
The average custodial sentence length for handling offensive weapons is 33% higher than it was in 2009-10, increasing from 269 days in 2009-10 to 358 days in 2018-19. The figure in 2018-19 is almost unchanged from the 354 days in 2017-18. The trend over the last ten years is broadly similar for knife offences only, with the average custodial sentence length being 7% longer than that of all handling offensive weapons at 382 days in 2018-19.
11. Community Sentences
Community sentence is a collective term for the different sentences given by courts that are served in the community, often as an alternative to a custodial sentence. Community sentences consist of requirements, such as unpaid work, being supervised by a social worker, or being restricted to their home at certain times. There is a wide range of options available in the Scottish courts, which are listed at Annex D.
Nineteen per cent (or 15,206) of all convictions in 2018-19 resulted in a main penalty of a community sentence. These account for a higher proportion of court sentences than ten years ago, up from 14% in 2009-10, although there has been a two percentage point fall since 2017-18. There was a decrease of 12% in the number of community sentences in 2018-19 from 17,303 in 2017-18, driven by the 16% fall in the use of Community Payback Orders.
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 16% in 2018-19 to 11,803 people, representing 78% of all community sentences (compared to 81% the previous year). The use of CPOs has now declined for four consecutive years.
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 19% of people receiving community sentences in 2018-19 (2,840 RLOs), up 5% from 2,712 in 2017-18. 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 10% from 497 in 2017-18 to 541 in 2018-19. This is the second consecutive year of increase following a relatively long period of decline. Despite the recent increase, levels remain 33% lower than in 2009-10 (807 DTTOs).
Community sentences are available for courts to use in any case where the offence is punishable by imprisonment (with the exception of charges which attract mandatory life sentences). The majority of community sentences were given for breach of the peace (3,096 or 20%), common assault (2,851 or 19%) and crimes against public justice (1,779 or 12%).
In 2018-19 the crimes/offences where community sentences were most commonly given were:
- other sexual crimes – 407 people, or 55% of court disposals for these crimes
- sexual assault – 145 people, or 50%
- other non-sexual crimes of violence – 72 people, or 43%
- handling offensive weapons – 622 people, or 39%, and
- fraud – 159 people, or 39% of court disposals.
12. Financial penalties and other sentences
The Courts can impose financial penalties such as fines, which are enforced by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS), or compensation orders, which collected 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 72,491 in 2009-10, when they accounted for 60% of all disposals. Numbers have continued to decline in the latest year, down by 5% from 39,235 in 2017-18 to 37,294 in 2018-19. They now account for fewer than half (48%) of all disposals. This is possibly because the types of cases that would have historically attracted a financial penalty are more likely to be dealt with non-court disposals before they get to Court (see non-court disposal section).
The use of compensation orders as a main penalty remained almost unchanged at 787 in the year to 2018-19. Numbers are 24% lower than in 2009-10 (1,039). The median value for compensation orders has risen at a faster rate than for fines, up from £180 in 2009-10 to £250 in 2018-19. 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, although this still only refers to the main offence.
"Other sentences" are mostly admonishments (a verbal warning from the sheriff). In 2018-19, 13,072 offenders were admonished, which represented 17% of all convictions. This has increased from 13% in 2009-10, although has remained almost unchanged since 2015-16. In 2018-19 the crimes for which admonishments were most frequently given (where there were more than 1,000 convictions overall) were:
- crimes against public justice with34% of all convictions being admonishments (2,450 convictions)
- shoplifting with 30% (1,770 convictions), and
- breach of the peace etc. with 29% (3,460 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 (aggravations) are created by legislation. Although aggravations must be proved in Court they can be proven by a single source of evidence, rather than by corroborated evidence. For example, someone who commits a common assault which is motivated by malice towards the victim as a result of their religion would have their offence recorded under assault with an aggravation code of religious prejudice. The statutory aggravations are taken into account during sentencing, and a higher penalty may be given as a result.
Other aggravations 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 aggravation/identifier codes on the CHS. The set of aggravations published covers domestic abuse, disability, racial, religious, sexual orientation and transgender. The legislation creating these aggravations 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 as such, 2018-19 is the first full year of its use.
Please note that statistics on statutory bail aggravations, which identify offences that were committed while the offender was on bail, are not included in this publication but are published alongside this bulletin.
Statistics on aggravations
Please be aware that a single proceeding can have more than one aggravation recorded against it e.g. "domestic" and "disability". In these cases, the same proceeding would be counted twice in the aggravation tables but once in the main court tables.
There were 9,210 convictions with a domestic abuse identifier in 2018-19, a 7% decrease from 2017-18 (9,884 convictions). Levels have been declining since 2014-15 but remain 8% higher than when numbers were at their lowest of the last decade in 2010-11 (8,566 convictions). Their use has fallen at a similar rate this year to the overall number of convictions.
The new statutory domestic abuse aggravation, used for the first time in 2017-18, has in 2018-19 been applied to 7,752, or 84% of convictions with a domestic identifier – it is never applied to a proceeding without the non-statutory identifier.
In 2018-19 the vast majority of people convicted of an offence with a domestic abuse identifier recorded were male (8,168 convictions or 89%). This proportion has decreased by one percentage point from 90% in 2009-10, although the proportion has changed very little in recent years.
In 2018-19 the most common crime types with a domestic abuse identifier recorded against a conviction were:
- breach of the peace, which made up 43% of domestic abuse convictions (3,957 convictions) – of these breach of the peace-type convictions, the majority of convictions were for offences of "threatening or abusive behaviour" or stalking
- common assault (26% or 2,421 convictions), and
- crimes against public justice (20% or 1,836 convictions).
After the domestic abuse aggravation, the next most common types of aggravations recorded in 2018-19 were:
- racial (629 convictions);
- sexual orientation (356 convictions); and
- religious (204 convictions).
Since 2017-18, convictions with racial and sexual orientation aggravations attached have fallen by 5% and 1% respectively, compared to the 6% fall in overall convictions. There was a 19% decline in convictions with a religious aggravation. The only aggravation attached to more convictions in 2018-19 compared to the previous year was that relating to disability, increasing by 51% from 59 convictions in 2017-18 to 89 in 2018-19.
14. Age and Gender
In 2018-19 there were 16 convictions per 1,000 population. There were more convictions for males at 27 convictions per 1,000 population compared to five for females.
The overall number of convictions per 1,000 population has declined over the last ten years from 25 convictions per 1,000 population in 2009-10. The decline has been driven by a decrease for males, down to 27 convictions per 1,000 population in 2018-19 from 44 in 2009-10. The number for females has been consistently much lower than for males, but also shows an overall decline, from eight to five convictions per 1,000 population between 2009-10 and 2018-19.
Over the past 10 years, the gap between the number of convictions per 1,000 population for younger people compared to older people has become smaller. This has been driven by a fall in the number of convictions per 1,000 population for younger people, especially younger men. For people aged 31-50, the number has been on a more gradual downward trend over the last decade, but the fall has not been as consistent as for younger people.
In 2009-10, the age group with the highest numbers of convictions per 1,000 population was those aged 18-20, with 71 convictions per 1,000 population. Since then, this has changed. In 2018-19, the highest number of convictions per 1,000 population was for the 31-40 age group overall (34 per 1,000), the 21-30 age group also showing a similar 33 convictions per 1,000 population.
Convictions by gender/age and crime type
Males accounted for 82% of all convictions in 2018-19, the same proportion as in 2017-18. More males than females were convicted in all crime/offence categories.
Whilst females accounted for 18% of all convictions, they accounted for relatively higher proportions of convictions for the following crime types in 2018-19:
- 44% (74 convictions) of other non-sexual crimes of violence. The vast majority of these were for "cruelty to and unnatural treatment of children" convictions; and
- 33% (135 convictions) of all fraud convictions.
Compared to older people, a larger proportion of convictions for people under 21 are for crimes against public justice and common assault. For example, more than a fifth (23%) of convictions for females under 21 were for common assault with the corresponding figure for males being 15%. By contrast common assault accounted for smaller proportions of convictions for both men and women aged over 40 (nine and 10% for males and females respectively).
Convictions for motor vehicle offences accounted for higher proportions of convictions for those aged over 40; 42% of males, and 45% of females convicted. This compares to the under 21-age group where 24% of both males and females were convicted of motor vehicle offences.
Sentencing by gender and age
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 2018-19 but representing a higher proportion of all custodial sentences (91%). Females were more likely to be issued with an "Other sentence" with 27% 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.
- There are falls in the total numbers of convictions across every sentence type. This fits with the overall fall in convictions, although the largest and most consistent falls are seen in financial penalties.
- Financial penalties are the only disposal types where the trend is in decline for all age-gender groups, with the largest decreases being for younger age groups.
- With respect to custodial sentences, numbers for males have fallen by 23% (with a notable decrease of 70% for under-21s), whereas numbers of custodial sentences for females have only decreased by 14%, with large falls for under 30s and a 75% increase for the 31-40 age group.
- Community sentences have seen a fall of 7%, although all of the decreases are seen in the under-30s, the over-30s are increasing. Since 2017-18, the number of community sentences has fallen by 12% and these falls are seen across all age groups. This is related to the falls in the numbers of CPOs being issued.
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 COPFS and therefore potentially to court. Statistics are presented on Recorded Police Warnings (RPW), Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices (ASBFPNs) 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 2009-10, there were 72,173 police disposals, the highest total seen in the last decade. This has now fallen by 50% to 36,108 in 2018-19.
At their peak, ASBFPNs accounted for more than 80% of the police disposals presented in this publication, but the number has been declining since 2013-14, and they now make up only 25% of police disposals this year. The most used police disposal in 2018-19 (61%) is now the Recorded Police Warning. 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.
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 (19,678 issued). In 2018-19, use has increased by 27% to 22,070 from 17,332 in 2017-18.
RPWs were issued in 2018-19 for a wide range of offences, such as drugs (which made up 29% of the total number issued in 2018-19), breach of the peace etc (24%) and shoplifting (15%). Males received 72% of all RPWs in 2018-19.
The introduction of RPWs coincided with the phasing out of Formal Adult Warnings (FAWs), although wasn't a direct replacement. Only 33 FAWs were recorded in 2018-19, and they should disappear from the records completely in the near future.
From 16 July 2018, it became possible to issue RPWs for less serious, non-sexual common assault, and this use made up 8% of the total number of RPWs in 2018-19.
Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices
Anti-Social Behaviour Fixed Penalty Notices (ASBFPNs) allow the police to issue offenders a £50 fine for a range of offences including drunken-related behaviours and playing loud music. In 2018-19, 8,890 people received an ASBFPN as a main penalty, a decrease of 19% from 11,018 in 2017-18. Levels have decreased for the fifth year in a row after a period of relative stability between 2010-11 and 2013-14 (around 55,000 ASBFPNs per annum). Some of the decline may be due to Police Scotland issuing revised guidance around the use of ASBFPNs, and there may be also some displacement by the use of Recorded Police Warnings.
In 2018-19 the vast majority of ASBFPNs were issued for three offence types:
- 5,090 for breach of the peace (57% of total);
- 1,615 for urinating etc (18%); and
- 1,549 for consuming alcohol in a public place (17%).
Males received 83% of all ASBFPNs in 2018-19 (7,406 people) with the most common offences being for breach of the peace etc. (54% of ASBFPNs issued to males) followed by urinating etc. (21%). ASBFPNs issued to females (1,483 people in total) were primarily issued for breach of the peace (75% of ASBFPNs to females) and consuming alcohol in a public place (14%).
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:
- The Whole System Approach (WSA)is increasingly 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 thatother 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. The number issued has fallen from 2,313 people in 2009-10 to 300 people in 2018-19, but numbers have fluctuated since 2014-15.
By contrast, the number of young people referred for EEI increased steadily since their introduction, rising to 6,655 in 2015-16 as the use of these practices became more commonplace. Since then, numbers have decreased each year. In 2018-19, the total number fell by 17% to 4,731 from 5,716 in 2017-18.
16. Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Disposals
When a report is submitted by the Police (or other specialist reporting agency) to the Procurator Fiscal, prosecution in court is only one of a range of possible options for dealing with people who have been charged. The Procurators Fiscal 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 Procurators Fiscal can decide to use a non-court direct measure such as a fiscal fine or a diversion from prosecution. Where the Procurators Fiscal decide to offer a diversion from prosecution, this is not shown in the data in this publication.
Of COPFS disposals included in this publication for 2018-19, around 52% were fiscal fines (18,443 people) with a further 20% being fiscal fixed penalties (6,977). Fiscal Warnings made up 17% of all COPFS disposals (6,211). 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) provide a method of dealing with a case that doesn't involve prosecution, and if someone receives a FW, they cannot be prosecuted for that specific offence in the future. Figures are reported from 2012-13 onwards (earlier figures obtained from COPFS can be seen in Table 1). Different recording practices before this date meant that it wasn't possible to present older figures.
In 2018-19, there was a decrease of 34% from 9,390 Fiscal Warnings in 2017-18 to 6,211. Prior to this, the numbers had been relatively steady around 9,000 per year apart from a spike of around 14,000 in 2015-16 – the fall in 2018-19 is a notable change, and may be partly due to increased use of RPWs, and to a presumption that 16- and 17-year-olds will be referred to the Children's Reporter. At the same time, the range of offences for which Fiscal Warnings are used has increased.
Fiscal Work Orders (FWO) were introduced across Scotland in April 2015 and provide the Procurators Fiscal with the option of offering an 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.
Fiscal fines of between £50 and £300 can be offered to an accused by the Procurators Fiscal 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 2018-19 there were 18,443 people issued a fiscal fine as a main penalty, a decrease of 19% from 22,693 in 2017-18, resuming the large falls in their use since the 2012-13 peak. Fiscal fines were most commonly issued for the following crimes:
- 33% were for Other miscellaneous offences (6,126 fines)
- 21% were for Drugs crimes(3,957 fines), and
- 17% were for Unlawful use of vehicle, which totalled 3,046 fines.
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 2018-19, 6,977 COFPs were issued to people as a main penalty, an increase of 7% from 6,546 in 2017-18. This is the first increase in their use since 2013-14, although the number issued now is only 30% of the level in that year (23,467 COFPs). This is related to a fall in the number of Road Traffic offences reported by the police.
The increase in the most recent year was driven by a rise in penalties for:
- "Documentation offences" up 17% to 1,592 from 1,366
- "Other motor vehicle offences" (including mobile phone offences and seatbelt offences) up 40% to 570 from 407; and
- "Speeding offences" almost unchanged at 3,325 from 3,237.
The most common crime COFPs were issued for in 2018-19 was forspeeding offences(3,325 penalties), which made up almost half (48%). After this COFPs were most commonly issued for the following crimes:
- 23% were for Documentation offences (such as using a vehicle without a test certificate, without a licence or failure to insure), totalling 1,592;
- 11% were for Signal and direction offences, totalling 750 penalties; and
- 9% were for "Lighting, construction and use offences", which includes mobile phone and seatbelt offences, totalling 602 penalties.
In 2018-19, more than three-quarters (77% or 5,395 of COFPs were issued to males and a third (34% or 2,348) of all COFPs were issued to males aged over 40.
17. Bail and undertakings
When a person is arrested or charged by the Police, the Police may decide to keep that person in custody. The police will submit a report to the Procurator Fsical in respect of the person in custody and where the Procurator Fiscal decides that the accused 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 Court 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, the individual is not merely cited to appear at Court at a later date, but the Police decide to release the individual on an Undertaking to appear at Court on a specified date and time.
On 25th January 2018, the law applicable to undertakings was changed, and is now set out under sections 25-30 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. An Undertaking generally has conditions attached including 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 to ensure that the undertaking conditions are observed may also be imposed. These undertaking conditions are similar to those for bail.
Please note that four additional tables on bail are published alongside this bulletin. These include bail statistics by court type as well as age and gender. One of the tables presents bail aggravations 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 relates to individual bail orders. Unlike the number of proceedings, where we count only one 'main' charge per person in each proceeding, multiple orders can be issued to a person during one case. Bail orders can also be issued in circumstances which may not lead to proceedings. However, there is a direct correlation between numbers of bail orders and numbers of proceedings, and any overall trend is likely to be similar in both. This is the case in 2018-19, as the number of bail orders decreased by 6% from 36,853 in 2017-18 to 34,735 in 2018-19. Over the longer term, numbers have fallen by 28% since 2009-10.
In the year to 2018-19, there were annual decreases in most categories, the exceptions being in fire-raising and vandalism (up 2% to 2,274 bail orders) and handling offensive weapons (up 6% to 1,510).
Bail-related offences cover the offences of breach of bail conditions (e.g. interfering with a witness) and failure to appear in court when required to do so. There were 6,501 convictions for bail-related offences in 2018-19, a decrease of 8% on 2017-18 (7,000).
The proportion of bail-related offences as a percentage of all bail orders granted in 2018-19 was 19%. This has remained fairly constant since 2009-10.
In 2018-19, there were 15,646 undertakings to appear in court, a fall of 11% from 2017-18 (17,644 undertakings). The number of undertakings fell sharply between 2010-11 and 2014-15, but there has been no clear trend since then. The total in 2018-19 is 43% below the 2010-11 peak. This may be related to changes introduced by the Criminal Justice (Scotland) 2016 Act - Part I (Police powers), which replaced written undertaking provisions from the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
More than three-quarters of undertakings were issued to males in 2018-19 (12,031 people). 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 2018-19 compared to 25% in 2009-10.