The courts in Scotland are located in many buildings across the country. Each building has a different floor plan and the courtrooms may differ in size.
There are four types of criminal courts in Scotland:
- the High Court
- the Sheriff Court
- the Sheriff Appeal Court
- the Justice of the Peace Court
The courtrooms of the four criminal courts have the same features in common.
Inside the courtroom
Courtrooms are generally laid out so that everyone in the court has a good view of those persons involved in the court proceedings.
The Judge, Sheriff or Justice of the Peace normally sits at the head of the courtroom on a raised platform commonly known as ‘the Bench’.
The Clerk of Court sits below and in front of the bench facing into the courtroom. This helps the clerk and Judge, Sheriff or Justice of the Peace to communicate during court proceedings.
Well of court
In front of the clerk's station is the well of court. This is where the lawyers sit, facing each other and the judge. To the clerk's right (to your left if you're facing the judge) is the prosecutor. On the other side of the table is the defence lawyer.
This is where the accused sits during court proceedings. The dock is in the centre of the courtroom in front of the well of court. From here, the accused is close to their defence lawyer so that they can communicate with one another. Where the accused is appearing from custody, they will be accompanied in the dock by court security.
In trial proceedings, if the accused chooses to give evidence, the accused will leave the dock and take the stand.
This is where members of the jury sit (in High Court and Sheriff & Jury trials). In Scotland there are 15 jurors and so 15 seats in the jury box. The jury box can either be to the left or the right of the well of court.
Witness box or stand
The witness box or stand is directly opposite the jury box. This ensures that the Jury (if its a high Court or Sheriff and Jury trial), the Judge, Sheriff or Justice of the Peace, the prosecutor, and the defence lawyer have a clear view of a witness whilst they give their evidence. The accused will also have a clear view of the witnesses, either by:
- direct line of sight from the dock, or
- TV screen, if a divider screen has been put up (so that the witness does not have to see the accused)
Either behind the dock (at the back of the courtroom), or overlooking the court, is where members of the public can watch court proceedings . Any media or other observers will also be seated within the gallery. The gallery is separated from the well of the court.
Next to the courtroom
There are separate waiting rooms for prosecution witnesses and defence witnesses. These rooms will either have direct access into the courtroom or will be located close to the courtroom.
Participation remotely in court proceedings
In some trial proceedings, witnesses and/or members of the jury may not be present in the courtroom itself. In some cases where, for example, a witness has been deemed vulnerable, they may be allowed to give their evidence via a live link from a remote location outwith the courtroom or even the court building. Cameras will be as discreet as possible, whilst ensuring a good view of the witness. The same applies to TV screens.
Where the jury is located in a remote site and physical distancing is required, jurors will be spread around a large room. Separate cameras for each juror then beam back to displays in the courtroom. This means that people in court can still see the jury throughout proceedings.
Disabled access inside the courtroom
Access for wheelchair users varies from one courtroom to another. In some courts, access may be limited in the public gallery and waiting rooms. Every effort is made to offer well-spaced, step-free access to the dock and witness stand.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) has improved access. This process is ongoing. Disabled persons can contact SCTS for details of facilities at a specific building.
Seeing the courtroom before a trial
Victim Support Scotland runs a Witness Service. It offers court familiarisation visits to victims and witnesses. These are tours of an empty courtroom and waiting room.
Victim Support Scotland also offers virtual courtroom tours. Their virtual tours are intended to inform you about what the courts look like and what you can expect when you attend.