The Court Process
The initial Stages
If a driver has been charged with a road offence or refused a Fixed Penalty the police will send a
report to the Procurator Fiscal (PF). The PF is responsible for the prosecution of crime in Scotland and will decide if the case should proceed to court. If further proceedings are to be taken the Procurator Fiscal’s office will issue a Compliant which sets out the charge(s), together with a Court Citation. The citation will identify the relevant court where the proceedings will be held and the date on which the case will be heard.
Where a driver is arrested, the police will either release the person on an Undertaking to appear at court on a future date or keep the person in custody to appear at court on the next lawful day.
There are three types courts which can hear a road traffic case.
Where Cases Take Place:
Justice of The Peace Courts
The overwhelming majority of road traffic cases, such as speeding, running a red light and careless driving will be heard at Justice of the Peace Court.
More serious road traffic offences, such as drink driving and dangerous driving are heard at Sheriff Court .
In general cases in the JP Court and the Sheriff Court are held in the court closest to where the offence is said to have been committed. These courts are located in every region throughout Scotland.
The High Court of Justiciary
The High Court hears the most serious cases, such as causing death by dangerous driving. These cases are usually held in the High Court buildings located in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. The High Court can also sit within a Sheriff Court building close to where the offence took place.
Court Hearings and Procedure
Pleading Diets & Undertakings
When a case first calls for a Pleading Diet or Undertaking at a Sheriff or JP Court, the court simply wants to know if the accused person is pleading guilty or not guilty to the charge or charges that have been raised.
Plea of Guilty
If the accused person pleads guilty the court will usually proceed to sentence there and then. For the majority of road traffic offences the court will deal with the case by penalty points, fine or disqualification. In some cases sentence may be postponed for up to 4 weeks for further information that may assist the court in selecting a suitable sentence. Where a plea of Guilty is tendered at an early stage of the proceedings the court consider a discount on sentence because of the early plea.
If a solicitor has been instructed it is not always necessary for an accused person to appear at a Pleading Diet. However, if a person has been released by the police on an Undertaking that person must appear at court. If they fail to do so a warrant for their arrest may be issued by the court.
Continued Pleading Diets
A Pleading Diet and Undertaking can be Continued Without Plea for a short period of time, usually 4 or so weeks. This is common and will arise if the accused person wants to get legal advice or if further information is required before a plea is tendered.
Plea of Not Guilty
Where a person pleads Not Guilty to the charge or charges the court will fix two further court dates. The first date is called an Intermediate Diet and the second is the Trial Diet. These dates may be several months ahead. During this time the prosecution and defence are expected to properly prepare for the Intermediate and Trial Diets.
An Intermediate Diet is usually fixed a few weeks before the Trial Diet. The purpose of the Intermediate Diet is to find out if the trial is ready to go ahead on the allocated date. No witnesses will be present at this hearing/diet. If the trial can not go ahead the original trial date will be adjourned and will be a new date for the trial will be fixed. Another Intermediate Diet may also be fixed. A case may be adjourned for any number of reasons, such as witnesses not being traced, illness or that further information or investigation is required.
At this stage most, if not all, of the evidence against an accused will have been obtained. Having regard to all the evidence an accused person may decide to change their plea of Not Guilty to Guilty. Indeed an accused person can change a plea of Not Guilty to Guilty at any stage of the proceedings.
If a plea of not guilty is maintained and the defence and prosecution are ready to proceed the case will be continued to the Trial Diet.
At trial diet the accused will be asked to confirm their plea to the charge. If the accused maintains a plea of Not Guilty the the prosecutor (Procurator Fiscal Depute) will call witnesses to give evidence about the incident/offence. These witnesses are known a Crown witnesses. After each witness has been questioned by the prosecutor the defence can cross exam the witness. Evidence against an accused can also take the form of documents, photographs and video footage. The defence can also introduce this type of evidence and call defence witnesses to give evidence to support their version of events.
In the normal course of events, once all the evidence has been heard and the prosecution and defence have summed up, the Sheriff or Justice of the Peace will decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused. In Scotland there are three possible verdicts: one of conviction – Guilty and two of acquittal – Not Guilty and Not Proven.
In all cases there is an appeal process. If can accused person believes that their trail was unfair and that they were wrongly convicted they can appeal against the conviction to the High Court on certain grounds. An accused person can also appeal against a sentence that they believe was unduly harsh. Strict time limits apply to lodge an appeal against conviction, sentence or both. Time limits vary but usually an appeal must be lodged within 7 days from the date of conviction or sentence.
The court process can be very confusing and daunting, especially to people who have had no experience of the criminal court process. We understand that and will do our best to ensure you are fully informed about each stage of your case.