Preparing For Court in Scotland

June 2001

Receiving A Citation

Unless you were held overnight when you were arrested and taken to court the next day to plead, the first thing you hear about a court case is when a citation arrives. This is usually sent by recorded delivery or the local police try and hand it to you personally so that if you don’t appear in court or reply by letter the Procurator Fiscal (PF) can say you have received the complaint and a warrant should be issued.

If you are not at the address that you gave the police when you were arrested you need to make sure that whoever lives there will either:

-  Send the citation on to you so you can reply;
-  Tell the postman and the police that you are not there so that it gets returned to the PF.

If the PF has been unable to deliver a citation they might ask the court for a warrant, but this is just to catch up with you to get you to court so they can find out your new address and give you a court date. They don’t usually come looking for you but wait until you show up at Faslane again.

If the citation has been delivered and you don’t show up they will also ask for a warrant and will do the same thing as above, although they will view it slightly more seriously as you did know about it.

If you were brought to court the day after your arrest and were released on bail and you then don’t turn up for court you will be given an extra charge of Breach of Bail.

Some people who have been to court several times already and feel that that they will not get justice from a judicial system that ignores the basics of International Law have decided not to come voluntarily to court anymore. They are either ignoring letters from the court or are writing to tell them why they are not coming. We totally support you if you want to take this stand but it helps if we know that is what you are doing.Responding To A Citation

If you are jointly charged with one or more other people we suggest you get in touch with them so that you know which of you is pleading guilty or not guilty, and whether any of you wants a solicitor.

You can plead guilty or not guilty by post. If you were released from the police station on police bail which you would have had made clear to you at the time you do have to turn up in person to plead.

Keep copies of all documents you receive from or send to the court. You may need them at a later date.Pleading Not Guilty

All you have to do is fill in Section 1 on the reply form and send it back. If there are extra things you want to ask the court you can add a covering letter.

These could include:

-  Tell them what dates you are not available to appear for trial. They don’t have to take any notice of this but usually do.
-  Ask to be excused attendance at an Intermediate diet. (All Scottish court hearings are called ‘diets’ – don’t worry, they won’t ask what you had for breakfast and count the calories!) An Intermediate diet is a hearing a week or two before the trial diet to check that both you and the PF are ready to go to trial. It means if you are not ready or there is a problem with one of the witnesses etc they can change the trial diet and not have the witnesses turning up unnecessarily. In practice the PF still regularly asks for adjournments on the day of the trial because the police have only just told him/her they can’t come. Intermediate diets usually only take a few minutes and the District court is usually willing to excuse you attendance at this if you have to travel any distance.
-  If you have any special requirements for the court, e.g. that it has disabled access for you or your witnesses or that it has the microphone loop system because you have hearing difficulties. The District Court in Helensburgh is now held in the Municipal Building, on the first floor with no lift. If disabled access is required they have to arrange a date when they can use Victoria Halls. Likewise they set up the microphones at Victoria Halls. Of course we often tell them that ALL cases should be accessible to and heard by ANY member of the public.
-  If English is not your first language then you can ask the court to arrange an interpreter.
-  You can request that the PF sends you copies of statements of the prosecution witnesses.

The court will write to you to tell you when your trial date is.Pleading Guilty

You can do this by letter or come in person. Either way you can make a ‘plea of mitigation’. This means you explain the mitigating circumstances of why you did what you are pleading guilty to. You can do this on the form at section 3 or if you want more room add a separate sheet. You can send anything you like really, leaflets, poems, songs, paper cranes, photographs.

If you plead by letter when your name is called the PF will open your file and read your letter, then pass it to the clerk to read who then passes it to the Magistrate or Sheriff. No one reads it out loud but those of us in court can see the reactions. It’s quite nice for those of us supporting to have a copy of your letter to pass around among ourselves if you want to send me one.

A word of warning – if in your explanation you say that you don’t really think you did breach the peace then the court can decide not to accept your guilty plea and set a trial date anyway.

It is up to you whether you want to give details about your financial circumstances. In principle the court will fine you according to your means, although it often seems to rely more on which magistrate it is and what mood they are in.If You Don’t Reply

If you forget to reply in time, lose the paperwork etc you can phone the PF’s office (01389 730972) to find out if they have set another date or issued a warrant. Even if there is a warrant you can appear at the court in person on an ‘invitational warrant’ to sort it out. This means you are not in custody but handing yourself into the court voluntarily.If You Move Abroad.

We have very little experience of what will happen if you miss your court date or don’t pay a fine because you have left the country. In theory they will issue a warrant which will sit on the computer for years. They are not going to send Interpol after you for a Breach of the Peace. It might show up at immigration if you come back into the country, and you might be arrested and brought here for court, but it seems fairly unlikely.

We don’t know if anyone who needs a visa to enter the country will be affected by outstanding warrants.