Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission – Part One

A while back I was sent an E-mail from a reader asking how the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) fit into the Criminal Appeals Process in Scotland. It’s taken me a while to get round to this post while I filled in a few gaps in my knowledge.

The SCCRC is a public body that was first established in 1995 as part of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (which has subsequently been amended by the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997).

I’ve decided that this is quite complex and it’ll require two separate posts to explain. The first one is on basic criminal procedure and the second one will be about appeals and the role that the SCCRC plays in this process.

There are some changes taking place in the criminal justice process in Scotland just now and I’ll point these out as I get to them.

In Scotland there are three main courts dealing with criminal cases and these are:

  • Justice of the Peace Courts
  • Sheriff Court
  • High Court of Justiciary

The Justice of the Peace courts are replacing District Courts. They are presided over by a lay Justice of the Peace (JP) who sits with a legally qualified clerk. The Clerk advises the JP on matters of law and procedure. The maximum sentence that a JP can impose is 60 days in prison or a fine not exceeding £2,500. However, it’s not this straight forward. In the City of Glasgow the District Court is presided over by a legally qualified Stipendiary Magistrate who can impose a maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding £10,000.

The Sheriff Court is by far the busiest of all courts in Scotland as it deals with both civil and criminal cases. When it sits as a criminal court it can use one of two procedures: Summary or Solomn. The procedure used is decided by the Procurator Fiscal Service when they decide to prosecute.

When the Sheriff Court follows the Summary procedure a Sheriff sits alone and decides on both questions of fact and law. When the Sheriff Court follows the solomn procedure the sheriff sits with a jury of 15 and the jury decides upon issues of fact while the sheriff decides upon matters of law. The sentencing powers of a sheriff sitting in Solomn are greater than those of the sheriff sitting in Summary. More serious cases will be dealt with under the solomn procedure.

The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court in Scotland. There is no limit on its sentencing powers (except certain ones prescribed by statute). It sits as both a trial court (usually with 1 judge and a jury of 15) and an appeal court (usually with three judges, although it can be as many as five or seven).

The High Court of Justiciary hears appeals from the lower criminal courts as well as from itself. There is no appeal from the High Court of Justiciary to the House of Lords. However, under the Scotland Act appeals can be lodged to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (soon to be the Supreme Court) on a devolution minute.

I’ll leave it until Friday before I post the second part to this. If you have any questions then post them as comments or send me an E-mail (see my profile) and I’ll try and answer them.