Court process

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Concurrent orders

It is essential that all children and their families understand the court process and are provided with appropriate support, guidance and assistance (Scottish Government, 2011; CYCJ, 2020a). This is key, as children report:

“…[experiencing court as] a series of ‘rapid fire judgements’, from being in the cells, to seeing the social worker, to meeting your legal advisor and on to the courtroom. They felt lost and unsupported by all those they came into contact with during the process” (Cook, 2015, p.9).

Research with children, their families and professionals has also highlighted that:

“... a lack of understanding of the court process, and the language used throughout all stages of the process, was a barrier to even the most basic participation in justice” (McEwan et al., 2020, p. 14).

The Independent Care Review (2020, p.41) has also concluded:

“Scotland must consider how to ensure that children have the totality of their cases dealt with in an environment that upholds their rights and allows them to effectively participate in proceedings. Traditional criminal courts are not settings in which children’s rights can be upheld and where they can be heard.”

This means all professionals must be able to provide clear and accurate information and any necessary support. The support provided to children should be holistic and individualised. This includes practical supports to address identified needs, process and procedural guidance, links between and across all professionals who are involved in a child’s life and journey through the justice system, and support throughout and until completion of the court process. This must include children’s rights-based legal advice, advocacy and representation (Standard 5 Scottish Government, 2021).

Types of criminal justice procedure

Types of court

High Court

Deals with the most serious criminal cases. There is no limit on the length of custodial sentence or amount of fine that this court may impose.

Sheriff Court

Deals with other criminal cases and:

Justice of the Peace Court

Deals with minor criminal cases. Maximum sentence 60 days in custody; maximum fine £2,500.

At court

Who will be in court?

The child’s solicitor, the prosecutor and the clerk of court, will normally sit below the judge in an area known as the well of the court. The judge’s seat is known as the bench.

Court appearances and cases will either take place physically within a court building or virtually.

At the start of a case

In all cases, the child will be asked to confirm details about themselves by the clerk of court, name and address. The different options available at the child’s first appearance in court vary dependent on whether their case is under solemn or summary procedure.

Under summary procedure the child can:

Under solemn procedure the child will first appear on petition at the Sheriff Court. This first appearance is in a closed court in private, consists of the child “making no plea”, then an application for bail. The outcome of the first appearance on petition is that the child will be “committed for further examination”. If bail is granted, this means that the child can leave court and will receive an indictment at some point over the next few months and any trial must start within one year of their first appearance in court. If bail is refused, then the child will be remanded in custody for seven days and must appear in court within 10 days - again, they will not be asked if they plead guilty or not guilty - at a hearing which is known as the “full committal”. At this time, the child can again apply for bail and if refused, the child will be remanded pending service of an indictment, and eventual trial which must start within 110 days of full committal if tried by sheriff and jury and 140 days if the case is to be tried in the High Court (as detailed in the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 and Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2004). There are certain circumstances where the time limits can be extended, however it would be expected that these time limits are strictly applied. In the period between a child’s appearance on petition and the service of an indictment, a child can offer to plead guilty as governed by section 76 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. If such a plea is accepted by the Crown, the child will also be given notice to appear at court, at which point the plea of guilty can formally be made, and the case will move to sentence. When the child is served with an indictment (the document that specifies the charges on which the accused is to face trial), a court date (either a First Diet if the case is to be heard in the Sheriff Court, or a Preliminary Hearing if it is to be heard in the High Court) will be communicated to the child. The child must attend this hearing. This will be the first opportunity for the child to enter a plea in respect of the charge(s) on the indictment. If the child pleads guilty, the case will move to sentence. If the child pleads not guilty, a trial date will be set.

The court will decide what happens to the child while awaiting trial, which can be that the child is remanded, bailed or ordained to appear:


These arrangements and responsibilities apply for the period of remand, until the case returns to court (if a different decision about the child’s placement is made) or until liberation.

Further information on the arrangements and processes for children entering secure care and custody can be found in the relevant sections of this resource. Further information on roles and responsibilities can be found at the Scottish Government (2018).

Where a child has been remanded and is then released (for example through the processes detailed above, PF release or bail), the child should be provided with support by their social worker, secure care, and/or from the Scottish Prison Service as appropriate.

Release on bail

Released on bail with conditions that the child must adhere to. These conditions will be read to the child and provided in writing. There are standard conditions (set out in section 24 Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995) but the court may also impose special conditions. Bail conditions can have significant impact on children’s lives, families and pro-social opportunities and can be difficult for children to comply with (McEwan et al., 2020). Breaching these conditions is a criminal offence. It is therefore crucial that the child fully understands the conditions and may benefit from consistent encouragement and reminders provided in a manner that fits with their stage of development and cognitive functioning, as breaching them can lead to a custodial sentence. As part of court support provision, the child should be encouraged and enabled to comply with bail conditions and this may be provided through bail supervision that is responsive to the different needs of children as opposed to adults.

Child friendly resources on the use and impact of bail and remand with children in Scotland are available.

Ordained to appear

The child is bound to appear at the next calling of their case.

At the trial

Both the prosecutor and the accused may call witnesses to give evidence.

The length of time needed for a trial varies.

After all the evidence has been presented

The jury, sheriff, judge or JP decides on one of three verdicts:

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