Guide

What happens at a criminal court case

Last updated: 29 June 2017

Where cases take place

The Procurator Fiscal – the lawyer who works for the prosecution – decides whether a case should go to court.

The High Court of Justiciary

The High Court of Justiciary hears the most serious cases, including all cases of rape and murder.

There are no limits on the length of prison sentence or the fine the High Court can impose.

Trials are heard by a judge and jury. The judge decides the sentence.

The High Court also deals with all criminal appeal cases.

Sheriff courts

Sheriff courts hear other criminal cases, which are heard:

  • by a sheriff and a jury – these are called solemn proceedings
  • only by a sheriff – these are called summary proceedings

In a solemn case, the court can sentence an accused person up to 5 years in prison or impose a fine of any amount.

In a summary case, the court can sentence an accused person up to 12 months in prison or a maximum fine of £10,000.

Examples of criminal cases the sheriff court can deal with are:

  • theft
  • assault
  • possession of drugs

Justice of the peace courts

Justice of the peace courts hear cases dealing with less serious offences such as:

  • some traffic offences, like driving through a red light
  • being drunk and disorderly

The judge is called a justice of the peace – this is sometimes shortened to JP. There isn't a jury.

The maximum sentence a JP can impose is a fine of £2,500 or sending someone to prison for up to 60 days.

Justice of the peace courts replaced district courts.

Stipendiary Magistrates are legally qualified solicitors or advocates who sit in the Justice of the Peace Court in Glasgow. They hear similar cases to sheriffs and have the same sentencing powers. They can sentence the accused up to a year in prison or a fine of up to £10,000.

Find more information about courts on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website.

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What happens at a criminal court case
Where cases take place