What Happens In Court (Scotland)

June 2001

This briefing explains the procedure followed in the District Court. You (or your solicitor) have to work out where to fit your defence into this. The Sheriffs Court is basically the same except you are tried by a legally qualified Sheriff.

The District Court is the local Criminal Court. It is presided over by a Justice of the Peace (JP) who is a local ‘respected person’. S/he is not usually legally qualified. (Tony Stirling JP, who sits in Helensburgh District Court is a retired solicitor). The Clerk of the Court does have legal training and records the proceedings and advises the JP.

The Procurator Fiscal (PF) is there to prosecute you. The PF decides which court you go to, what you are charged with and whether you even get tried at all.

Before your trial starts make sure any witnesses you want to call are out of the courtroom. The court officer will show them a room to go to.

The order of the trial

Usually if you are defending yourself the JP explains the procedure as you go along. Often the JP, PF and Clerk mutter amongst themselves, you can ask them to speak up. In fact much of the proceedings are difficult to hear from the public section of the court, if you are straining to hear then your supporters also need you to ask people to speak louder.

-  When your name is called you take your seat in the dock. You can ask for a table for your papers. Whenever you speak or are being spoken to you have to stand up!
-  The Clerk checks who you are, and that they have the right person in the dock and also that you are still pleading not guilty and whether you have a solicitor.
-  The PF then makes a case against you by calling witnesses. S/he asks them about what happened to prove your guilt.
-  After the PF has finished with each witness you (or your solicitor) can ask them questions. If you disagree with anything they have said you should put your version to them or the court may assume you agree. The PF has a second chance to question them after your cross-examination.
-  When the PF has finished leading all the evidence against you if you feel that it isn’t enough to prove your guilt you (or your solicitor) can put in a submission that there is no case to answer. At this point you don’t talk about what you did but about what the PF and witnesses have said that you did. The court has to decide whether even if everything they said is true is it enough to find you guilty of what you are charged with. If two witnesses haven’t identified you as being present the JP should dismiss the case. IF the JP agrees with you s/he can throw the whole thing out, or s/he can tell the PF to drop some of the charges or even bits of charges! Yes! they can change the wording in the middle of the case!
-  Now its your turn……you (or your solicitor) calls witnesses and introduces evidence in your defence.
-  You can go in the witness box yourself, but don’t have to. If you want the court to hear about the facts of what you did, say, to counter misinformation from the police about your non-violence etc, you have to do this from the witness box on oath. You can swear on the bible, OR you can ask to ‘affirm’, which goes something like: ‘I declare and affirm that the evidence that I give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’(Note; In a Scottish court you are asked to raise your right hand to take the oath. You can object to this if it feels wrong for you, but the JP may insist) Remember if you go in the witness box, the PF can question you. If there are things you want to bring up as part of your defence later you have to submit them as evidence now, e.g. reports, letters etc
-  You can then call your witnesses and ask them questions. After each of your witnesses the PF can question them.
-  The PF then sums up his/her case. Usually it’s very short coming down to basically ‘the police said you sat in a road, you said you sat in a road, therefore you breached the peace.’
-  You then sum up your case. Say why you are not guilty and why the PF is wrong.
-  The JP then gives the verdict. ( S/he may adjourn for some minutes, hours, or days to consider the evidence! usually its 10 minutes). If you are found NOT GUILTY you are free to go! – If you are found guilty, the clerk passes the JP (and you) a record of your previous convictions. You are asked if you admit to all of them… check they haven’t added some that aren’t yours…there also may be some missing! – but you don’t have to admit to them.
-  The JP then asks about your circumstances, income etc. You (or your solicitor) can make a statement (called a plea of mitigation) This is your opportunity to explain how the consequences of a heavy penalty might impact on you and any dependants. If you chose you can say it’s irrelevant because you have no intention of paying a fine. You can explain why you took the action that you did.
-  The JP then sentences you.

You may be admonished, which means that you get a conviction on your record but no penalty.

For a fine you may have to pay in weekly instalments or be given a period of time to pay (even if you have said that you are not going to!).

The JP can immediately ‘impose the alternative’ , which means send you to prison. If you have been on remand your sentence can be back-dated to when you went into prison, but you should ask for this.

They can adjourn for a Social Enquiry Report – to check if it’s okay to send you to prison. For serious charges or repeat offences they can send you straight to prison.