The decision to take a case to court
The police will report the crime to the Procurator Fiscal if:
- the suspect is found
- they're 16 or over
- there's enough evidence
The Procurator Fiscal is responsible for the investigation of crimes. They'll decide whether there should be a prosecution – taking into account the interests of the victim and the public.
The Procurator Fiscal will consider the case, and if there's enough evidence the accused will be prosecuted and the case will go to court.
You'll be referred to the Victim Information and Advice (VIA) service for support if you're affected by a crime that involves:
- domestic abuse
- racial or religious aggravation
- sexual offences
- child victims and witnesses
- a trial that's likely to involve a jury
They'll give you information about the criminal justice system, keep you informed about progress in the case and put you in touch with organisations that can give you practical and emotional support.
The criminal justice system is the group of organisations that work together to keep people safe. They include the police, courts, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
What happens in the prosecution process?
The police carry out an initial crime investigation.
If they think there may be enough evidence to support a prosecution, they'll submit a report to the local Procurator Fiscal.
The Procurator Fiscal decides if there's enough evidence.
There must be at least 2 independent pieces of evidence for this, like:
- eye-witness stories
- fingerprint evidence
- other forensic or scientific evidence
If they think more evidence is needed, the Procurator Fiscal may ask the police to do more investigating.
If there's enough evidence, the Procurator Fiscal will decide what action needs to be taken in the public interest.
This means they'll make decisions based on what's best for the general public, and take into account things like the nature and seriousness of the crime and the risk the offender might commit a crime again. Actions include:
- prosecution in court
- fiscal fines
- compensation offers
- no action at all
Victims who have been referred to VIA will be given information about the case progress. Other victims and witnesses can ask for this information.
If the Procurator Fiscal sends the case to court, they'll decide what court it should be sent to.
This depends on the nature of the offence, the sentencing powers of the court and whether the accused has a criminal record.
If the Procurator Fiscal decides to take no further action
You're entitled to information about the decision on request from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. You may request that the decision be reviewed.
Alternatives to prosecution
Sometimes, the Procurator Fiscal may decide prosecution isn't appropriate for a case, but they still want to take action. The accused might be given:
- a warning by the Procurator Fiscal
- a fiscal fine of up to £300 – these are normally for lower level crimes
- a compensation order of up to £5,000 – these are normally for lower level crimes
- a work order – this means the offender is offered the chance to carry out between 10 and 50 hours of unpaid work as an alternative to court proceedings
- a road traffic penalty – this doesn't result in a criminal record
- a diversion from prosecution – this means the offender is referred to support or treatment for the offending behaviour, and could involve a social work department, psychologist, psychiatrist or mediation counsellor
Victims who have been referred to VIA will be told about this decision. Other victims and witnesses can ask for this information.
Can I drop the charges at a later date?
No. Once the details of the crime have been passed to the Procurator Fiscal, it's up to them to decide whether it is in the public interest to proceed with the case or not. You can let the Procurator Fiscal know if you have any concerns.