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Defendants (criminal proceedings)

Where will the trial be held?

The trial will normally take place in the area where the crime you are charged with was committed. For very serious crimes the trial will be held at the High Court of Justiciary. Trials at this court take place before a judge and a jury (of 15 people). Other serious cases are tried by a judge and jury in a sheriff court. Less serious cases will be tried by a judge without a jury, either in the sheriff court or the justice of the peace court. The trial will almost always be held in public.

Can the charges be changed during the trial?

During the trial the prosecutor may change the charges against you (e.g. where the evidence supports only a lesser crime than that first charged). During the trial you can plead guilty to some or all of the charges. The prosecutor may agree to accept your plea of guilty to a lesser crime than the one you were charged with.

Do I have to be present at the trial?

Except in very exceptional circumstances, you must be present throughout the trial, if it is being held before a jury. It cannot be held without you. Where you are present at the start of the trial, it may later proceed in your absence provided you have a lawyer in court. A trial before a judge sitting without a jury may, however, go ahead without you, if the court so decides.

Can I participate at the trial by video link?

You cannot participate at the trial by video link.

Will I have an interpreter if I don't understand what's happening?

The court proceedings will be held in the English language. If you don't understand English the court will provide an interpreter for you.

Will I have a lawyer?

You do not need to have a lawyer with you in court but you are strongly advised to have one. For some trials you must have a lawyer (e.g. rape or other sexual offence cases and those with young witnesses).

Do I need to give evidence at the trial?

You can give evidence at the trial but you do not have to. Your lawyer will advise you whether you should give evidence. If you give evidence but do not tell the truth, you are committing the crime of perjury. You may be prosecuted for this crime later. If you are giving evidence and are considered vulnerable, certain measures are available to assist you when giving evidence - these are called 'special measures'. An example of a special measure is a supporter, who is someone who stays with you when you are giving your evidence. A supporter can be someone you know, however, they cannot help you give evidence, or interfere with or influence your evidence in any way.

What are my rights in relation to the evidence against me?

If the prosecutor uses documents as evidence against you, he or she must tell your lawyer before the trial. Your lawyer can tell the prosecutor that he or she does not agree with what the document says. Where a witness gives evidence against you, your lawyer can challenge the witness by asking him or her questions.

Can I produce evidence on my behalf?

You have the right to produce evidence for your defence. The evidence might be documents or physical evidence. You can also ask witnesses to give evidence for you.

Will information about my criminal record be taken into account?

Before the trial the prosecutor will gather information about your criminal record. This may include your previous convictions in another Member State. But the judge or the jury cannot be told about your criminal record until after the verdict has been given, unless you introduce it yourself, or make statements about character that your record contradicts.

What happens at the end of the trial?

After all the evidence has been given, the jury will decide on its verdict. If the case is not tried by a jury the verdict is decided by the judge. There are two types of verdict. The first is a conviction (called a guilty verdict). The second is an acquittal (called not guilty or not proven). If you are found not guilty or not proven, the case against you has ended. Unless the police or the court are dealing with you on a different criminal charge, you are free to leave the court.

If the verdict is guilty the judge will decide how to sentence you. In serious cases there will be a separate court hearing for sentencing.

What sentence will I receive?

The sentence which you receive will depend upon the seriousness of the crime you committed. For serious offences the court is likely to send you to prison. You must be told how long you will stay in prison. In fixing the length of the time in prison the judge takes into account how long you have already been in custody. For all crimes you may be required to pay a sum of money (a fine). In fixing the amount of the fine the judge will consider how much you can afford to pay.

Other possible sentences include:

  • compensation order (which requires you to pay money to the victim of your crime);
  • community payback (which involves you doing unpaid work in the local community);
  • deferred sentence (where the court does not make a sentence until a later date and you will be given a lesser sentence if you have been of good behaviour).

What is the role of the victim during the trial?

The victim cannot become a party to the proceedings against you. However, the prosecutor may decide that the victim can give evidence against you at your trial. If you have committed a serious crime, the judge may consider a statement from the victim about the impact of the crime in deciding your sentence. The judge cannot award civil damages against you but can make a sentence of a compensation order (see paragraph above).

The victim can also take part in proceedings which are not directly against you but which are related. In particular he or she, may oppose the recovery of documents you are seeking to prove your case. In this case it will be for the court to decide whether the interests of justice require that you be given access to those documents.

Related links

Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995

Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service

Last update: 05/02/2020

The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective Member State. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. The European Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.


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