The Criminal Justice System in Scotland

Easy Read version available

Scotland’s criminal justice system is complicated with lots of different organisations involved and lots of different stages, each with its own separate processes.

What are all the stages in the Scottish criminal justice system?

Community Justice Scotland have created a map of the key stages of the Scottish justice system. It shows the broad range of possible journeys through the system and the range of possible outcomes. 

The Child’s Journey, A guide to the Scottish justice system provides a similar map of the criminal justice system for young people.

What sort of sentences can be given?

The Scottish Sentencing Council provide information on the wide range of sentences (sometimes called disposals) that can be given in criminal cases.

Non-custodial sentences

  • Without punishment - Absolute Discharge and Admonition.
  • Community based - Community Payback Orders, Compensation Order, Deferred Sentence, Orders and Fines

Custodial sentences

  • Prison sentences
  • Detention (for ages 16-21)

The Scottish Sentencing Council also provide information on the types of appeal and the potential outcomes of an appeal.

It is important to understand the exact sentence(s) you were given so that you can understand when it will become spent.

Glossary of terms

The language involved in the criminal justice system can also be complicated.  The Community Justice Ayrshire Partnership have created a useful glossary with common justice terms, acronyms and abbreviations

Easy Read guidance

The SOLD Network have produced a range of Easy Read resources that can help you to understand the criminal justice system:

How do you get a copy of your criminal record?

Should you need to access a copy of your criminal record. You can do so for free by making a Subject Access Request to Police Scotland.  The process is free and the form is available from the Police Scotland website.

It is worth noting the following tip from their website in mind:

“To request your criminal record (or for confirmation that nothing is held regarding you on these systems) you should tick the Scottish Criminal History System (CHS) and/ or Police National Computer (PNC) check boxes on the application form or state in your email that you would like a CHS/ PNC check.”

A table with examples of appropriate language use
A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.
Last updated:
March 9, 2024
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