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.

2. Trends in conviction rates

(Tables 4a-c)

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. Conviction 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 court. 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 judge or jury is unwilling to accept the evidence provided by the prosecutor and thereafter unable to convict the accused.

Ninety-one per cent of people proceeded against in court in 2020-21 were convicted after being found guilty of at least one charge (46,497 people). This is four percentage points higher than 2019-20. The conviction rate for all crimes and offences has remained relatively stable over the last decade, fluctuating between 86% and 91% in each year.

Conviction rates are highest for motor vehicle offences, with 95% of people proceeded against being convicted in 2020-21. In particular, speeding offences had a conviction rate of 99%. Apart from motor vehicle offences, the highest conviction rates for crimes was 96% for ‘other crime’ and 94% for shoplifting, whilst the lowest rate was for rape and attempted rape (51%). 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 from 69% in 2011-12 to 66% in 2020-21, although the rate was 2 percentage points higher in 2020-21 compared to the previous year;
  • Rape and attempted rape, down from 53% in 2011-12 to 51% in 2020-21, although the rate was 8 percentage points higher in 2020-21 compared to the previous year;
  • Crimes associated with prostitution, down from 92% in 2011-12 to 91% in 2020-21, with an increase of 30 percentage points in the past year. Caution is advised when interpreting this figure though as it relates to small numbers. 45 people were convicted for this crime in 2019-20, out of 74 proceeded, compared to 10 people convicted out of 11 proceeded in 2020-21.



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