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.

16. Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service disposals

(Tables 20 – 22)

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 Procurator 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 Procurator 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 2020-21, around 39% were fiscal fines (13,245 people) with a further 32% being fiscal fixed penalties (10,790). Fiscal Warnings made up 20% of all COPFS disposals (6,974) (Chart 19). 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.

Chart 19. COPFS disposals by type, 2020-21
Bar chart showing the proportion of COPFS disposals given by type with the most being Fiscal Fines (39%) followed by Fiscal fixed penalty (32%).

Procurator fiscal warnings

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 2020-21, there was an increase of 23% from 5,662 FWs in 2019-20 to 6,974. In the period 2013-14 to 2017-18, the numbers had been relatively steady at around 9,000 per year, apart from a spike to around 14,000 in 2015-16. The lower levels over the last three years 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 rather than given a FW. At the same time, the range of offences for which FWs are used has increased.

Fiscal work orders

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 this bulletin in future. However, numbers of FWOs issued can be found elsewhere in the Criminal Justice Social Work statistics.

Fiscal fines

Until 6 April 2020, fiscal fines of between £50 and £300 could be offered to an accused by the Procurator Fiscal as an alternative to prosecution. From 7 April 2020, under Coronavirus legislation, the upper limit was increased to £500. 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 2020-21 there were 13,245 people issued a fiscal fine as a main penalty, 28% lower than the 18,366 people they were issued to in 2019-20.

In 2020-21,154 people were issued with a fiscal fine for offences relating to coronavirus legislation. This is 1% of all fiscal fines issued in 2020-21.

Fiscal fines were most commonly issued for the following crimes:

  • 39% were for Drugs crimes (5,199 fines),
  • 16% were for Breach of the peace etc. offences (2,130 fines), and
  • 12% were for Other miscellaneous offences, which totalled 1,571 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 2020-21, 10,789 COFPs were issued to people as a main penalty, an increase of 36% from 7,959 in 2019-20. This is the third year in row that their use has increased, although the number issued in 2020-21 is the largest year on year increase seen over the last few years. This may be related to the coronavirus pandemic as guidance for prosecutors was reviewed in 2020, shortly after the passage of the Scottish Coronavirus Acts, to ensure appropriate and proportionate use of direct measures and in particular a fixed penalty, in relation to cases which may otherwise have proceeded in Justice of the Peace courts.

The increase in the most recent year was driven by a rise in penalties for:

  • Serious driving offences up 94% to 574 from 296,
  • Speeding offences up 57% to 6,564 from 4,182; and
  • Documentation offences up 40% to 2,221 from 1,592

The most common crime that COFPs were issued for in 2020-21 was for speeding offences (6,564 penalties), which made up more than two thirds (61%). After this COFPs were most commonly issued for the following crimes (Chart 20):

  • 21% were for Documentation offences (such as using a vehicle without a test certificate, without a licence or failure to insure), totalling 2,221;
  • 6% were for Lighting, construction & use offences, totalling 679 penalties; and
  • 5% were for Serious driving offences (such as mobile phone and seatbelt offences), totalling 574 penalties.

In 2020-21, more than three-quarters (79% or 8,552) of COFPs were issued to males and 33% (or 3,557) of all COFPs were issued to males aged over 40.

Chart 20. Most common offences for Fiscal Fixed Penalties, 2020-21
Bar chart showing the most common offences given a Fiscal Fixed Penalty, the most being for Speeding offences (6,564) followed by Documentation offences (2,221)



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