Criminal proceedings in Scotland: 2020-2021

Statistics on criminal proceedings concluded in Scottish courts and alternative measures to prosecution issued by the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are presented for the ten years from 2011-12 to 2020-21. The latest year’s data is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

11. Community sentences

(Tables 7a-b and 8a-c)

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 Payback Orders are the most widely used community sentence and can include requirements such as unpaid work or other activity requirements, being supervised by a social worker, or programme requirements. Other community sentences are Drug Treatment and Testing Orders and Restriction of Liberty Orders. There is a wide range of options available in the Scottish courts, which are listed at Annex D.

Twenty-three percent (or 9,741) of all convictions in 2020-21 resulted in a main penalty of a community sentence. This is the highest proportion over the past ten years, up from 16% of convictions in 2011-12, and from 22% last year. There was a 42% decrease in the number of community sentences the past year, down from 16,661 in 2019-20, driven by increases in the use of Community Payback Orders and Restriction of Liberty Orders (Chart 12).

Chart 12. People issued with community sentences, 2011-12 to 2020-21
A line chart showing the number of individuals issued a community sentence by type between 2011-12 and 2020-21.

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 steadily between 2011-12 (10,380) to 2015-16 (15,974). Numbers decreased by 47% from 12,781 in 2019-20 to 6,781 people in 2020-21; and represented 70% of all community sentences in 2020-21 (compared to 77% the previous year).

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. The number of RLOs decreased by 20% in the past year, from 3,383 in 2019-20 to 2,718 in 2020-21. The use of RLOs has increased each year over the past 10 years, increasing from 1% of people convicted in 2011-12 to 6% of people convicted in 2020-21. RLOs made up 28% of people receiving community sentences in 2020-21 (2,718 RLOs), up slightly from 20% in 2019-20. 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 decreased by 52% from 485 in 2019-20 to 235 in 2020-21. Numbers have been relatively similar in recent years, but are 63% lower than ten years ago in 2011-12 (642 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). Level 1 CPOs (which involve an unpaid work or other activity requirement between 20 and 100 hours) can be imposed where a fine has not been paid. The majority of community sentences were given for breach of the peace (1,767 or 18%), common assault (1,647 or 17%), and crimes against public justice (1,578 or 16%).

In 2020-21 the crimes/offences where community sentences were most commonly given for that type were:

  • other sexual crimes – 389 people, or 67% of court disposals for these crimes
  • sexual assault – 87 people, or 59%
  • Domestic Abuse (Scotland)Act -216 people or 56%
  • other non-sexual crimes of violence – 57 people, or 51%
  • theft of a motor vehicle – 66 people, or 40%
  • handling offensive weapons – 476 people, or 39% of court disposals
  • other dishonesty – 160 people, or 38% of court disposals
  • common assault – 1,647 people, or 34% of court disposals
  • other theft – 260 people, or 29% of court disposals



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