The police or other reporting agencies carry out an initial crime investigation and submit a report to the local procurator fiscal. The fiscal considers the evidence and decides what action to take in the public interest, which could involve:
- Offering a direct measure
- A prosecution
- Taking no action in the case
In coming to a decision, the fiscal will take into account factors such as the:
- Seriousness of the offence
- Length of time since the offence took place
- Interests of the victim and other witnesses
- Age of the offender, any previous convictions and other relevant factors
- Local community interests or general public concern
In some cases, the fiscal can take what are called direct measures, which include:
- A written or verbal warning by the fiscal
- A fine, or fixed penalty conditional offer, of between £50 and £300
- A fixed penalty for less serious road traffic offences, sometimes also with penalty points
- Payment of compensation of up to £5,000 to someone who has suffered monetary loss, personal loss, alarm or distress
- Referral for specialist support or treatment
- Other diversions from prosecution such as reparation and mediation
With direct measures, witnesses do not have to give evidence at a trial allowing the courts to spend time dealing with more serious cases. The accused does not receive a criminal conviction but the direct measure is record for two years on their record and can be referred to if they offend again.
The fiscal decides where the trial should take place based on the sentences the court can impose. Prosecutions in the more serious cases – where the accused has been held in custody – must take place within stricter time limits than if the accused has been granted Bail. A custody trial in the sheriff court before a jury must start within 110 days of the full committal (the court appearance that confirms the accused is to stand trial). A High Court trial must take place within 140 days. During that time, the prosecution case has to be prepared and an indictment (notice of the charges) served on the accused within 80 days.
In custody cases without a jury in the Sheriff Court or Justice Court the complaint (notice of the charges) is served at first appearance and the trial must start within 40 days.
If there is not sufficient evidence or it is thought not to be in the public interest, no action is taken. An explanation of the reasons for doing so can be given to victims.
Along with the police, more than 100 specialist agencies report cases to the fiscal. The types of offences reported include benefit fraud, pollution of drinking water, illegal dumping of waste and infringement of trading standards. The reporting agencies include the Health and Safety Executive, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as well as local authority departments.
Specialist units of prosecutors process cases according to the seriousness of offences. Other units specialise in deaths that need further explanation, health and safety matters, appeals, complex fraud, serious and organised crime, international cases, sexual crimes, confiscation of the proceeds of crime and environmental and wildlife law.
For more information please view Our Role in Detail.