8 things you didn’t know about the Scottish justice system

‘Advocates’, ‘devilling’ and ‘not proven’: what are these quirks of the Scottish justice system?

The High Court of Justiciary, supreme criminal court of Scotland

The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court of Scotland. Source: Ron Almog

The courts and prison system are devolved powers in Scotland. There are several unusual aspects about it that distinguish it from its British cousins.

1. Scottish courts can deliver one of three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proven

The controversial ‘not proven’ verdict is unique to Scotland and is used when the jury believes the defendant may have committed the crime but doesn’t have sufficient evidence to find the person guilty.

Scales of justice

Scales of justice: should there be three in Scotland? Source: Rae Allen

2. There are 15 people in a jury in a Scottish criminal case

In Scotland a simple majority (8 or more out of 15) is sufficient to establish guilt.
In England a jury comprises 12 people, with a unanimous verdict required to establish guilt. But in some cases, where the jury has failed to reach a unanimous decision, a majority of 11-1 or 10-2 can be allowed.

3. As Scotland remains part of the UK, the Supreme Court is the highest court governing its courts.

Scotland has its own civil and criminal courts, which are independent from the system in England and Wales.

4. HM YOI Polmont in Falkirk is the largest Young Offenders’ Institute in the UK

It’s contracted numbers are 760, with a maximum space for 830.

5. The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is eight years old

The Scottish system tries younger people than England, Wales and Ireland, where the age is 10 years old. However a child can only be prosecuted in Scotland aged 12 and above.
Criminal responsibility is based on when a child is considered capable of committing a crime and old enough to stand trial and be convicted of a criminal offence.

It compares with, for example, 12 years in Canada, 13 years in France, 14 years in Germany and China, and 15 years in Sweden.

6. Scottish judges are appointed by the Queen

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II. Source: Michael Garnett

But the Queen takes recommendations from the First Minister. The judiciary in Scotland is led by the Lord President who acts as Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General of the High Court of the Justiciary. His deputy is the Lord Justice Clerk.

7. There are two types of lawyers: solicitors and advocates.

Solicitors carry out more general legal practice and advocates, like barristers in England and Wales, specialise in advocacy and are instructed by solicitors.

8. ‘Devilling’ is a period of pupillage that lawyers take in order to become advocates

This is the final stage in qualifying as an advocate. Prior to this they must have completed a four-year law degree at a Scottish university (or a postgraduate two-year course), obtained a diploma in legal practice and completed two years training in a solicitor’s office and the taken Faculty of Advocates exams. Phew!

For more on Scottish Prisons, try Interactive: a beginner’s guide to prisons in Scotland

TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/PrisonWatchUK

One Comment on “8 things you didn’t know about the Scottish justice system”

  1. Mark Bond says:

    Reblogged this on e-Roll Call Magazine.


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