Court cases

Scroll down for information and advice on attending court; being a witness in court; court procedures; appeals; prisoner release; inquests; the Criminal Justice System.


Attending court

Most criminal cases and appeals are held in public courtrooms. This means that you can attend, although you don’t have to unless you are called as a witness (see below). Children under 14 are not allowed in court unless they have been called as a witness. The information below can help you decide if you want to go or not, and help prepare you if you do decide to go.

The Procurator Fiscal or Victim Information and Advice should inform the nearest relative of the dates of any court hearings in writing. If you don’t hear anything and you want to know if a court hearing is happening soon, talk to your police or VIA contact.

In certain circumstances, you may also have the right to request information about the progress of the case. Guidance on what information can be obtained, who can make a request, and how to make a request, can be found in the document ‘Access to Information Protocol’. This guidance can be found at www.copfs.gov.uk/publications/victims-and-witnesses.


Support in court

If you decide to attend a court hearing, it may help to have support. Your police contact may be able to come with you. You can also bring friends and family. The court will try to find places for everyone to sit, although maximum numbers will be restricted by seats available.

You can also access information and support from the two services listed below.

Victim Information and Advice (see Criminal investigation and charges ) can help you understand procedures in court and what happens in your case. An officer from VIA can meet you when you attend court. They won’t sit in court with you, but the Witness Service (see below) can provide support throughout a trial. Your VIA officer will aim to be present in court for any plea or verdict, so they can explain it to you afterwards.

Victim Support Scotland is a charity, supported by The Scottish Government, providing emotional and practical advice and support to victims and witnesses of crime. This help is free and confidential. Victim Support Scotland’s Witness Service provides information and emotional and practical support to victims, witnesses and bereaved relatives attending court. The Witness Service is available in all High Court, Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace courts. Staff and trained volunteers support you through the process of attending court and, if you are a witness, giving evidence.

They are also able to arrange an accompanied visit to the court before the hearing, so you can familiarise yourself with a court room and court facilities. Many people find this helpful.

The police or your Victim Information and Advice officer will be able to put you in touch with Victim Support’s Witness Service. Alternatively, call the Victim Support Scotland helpline on 0800 160 1985 or go to victimsupport.scot to find out more.


Seeing the accused or their friends around the courthouse

If you were not in the crash, court may be the first place that you see the accused or any of their friends. Many people find this hard. If the accused is on bail, they will be able to use the public areas of the court, such as any cafe.

It may be possible for you to sit and wait for a court hearing in a quiet room, away from the accused (if they are not remanded in custody) and away from any of their friends. You can ask court staff, or the Witness Service, about this.


Where you can sit in the courtroom

In the courtroom, you and anyone supporting you, as well as friends of the accused and any journalists, can sit in the public gallery. (If you are a witness, you will not be able to sit in the gallery until you have given evidence.) VIA or the Witness Service may be able to arrange for you to sit in a different part of the gallery to any friends of the accused.

In court, the person being prosecuted is referred to as ‘the accused’. A more formal term ‘the panel’ is also occasionally used.


What you may see and hear, and how you may feel

Evidence is presented in court for the benefit of the justice of the peace, sheriff, judge and/or jury. Sometimes you may not be able to see evidence being discussed (such as diagrams or videos). If you can see evidence, some of it may be particularly upsetting. You may also strongly disagree with one or more things said in court by a lawyer for the accused, or by a witness.

If you think you may get upset and need to leave the courtroom, you can. You are allowed to leave and re-enter a courtroom quietly. While you are in court, you are required to sit quietly and not talk. People who disturb court proceedings can be asked to leave.

You should switch off your phone, tablet or other electronic device before you enter the courtroom. You are usually allowed to take notes in court, but sometimes there are legal reasons that prevent this. You should check with court staff before taking notes. You are not allowed to take photos or make sound recordings in court.


Understanding what is happening in court

When the court has breaks, for example at lunchtime, VIA will aim to answer any of your questions about what is happening in court.


Courtroom changes and delays

Sometimes a court building has many courtrooms in it. Sometimes the courtroom in which your case will be heard changes. Sometimes, the start time of a hearing is delayed or a hearing is postponed to another day. VIA will aim to keep you up to date with what is happening.


If you are asked to be a witness in court

In certain cases a person who is bereaved by a road crash may be ‘cited’ as a witness to give evidence in court (asked to be a witness in court). If you are asked to be a witness, the Procurator Fiscal will give you a letter and booklet called Being a witness. You may be eligible for special measures to help you give evidence (see below).

You can download the Being a witness booklet from www.copfs.gov.uk/involved-in-a-case/witnesses.


Special measures for witnesses

Being a witness in court is a new experience for most people. As a witness, you may feel vulnerable for reasons to do with the circumstances of the case, the evidence you have to give, or your health or age. You may feel so distressed at the thought of giving evidence that you feel vulnerable.

You can discuss any concerns you have with the person who cited you, or your VIA contact. They can give you information about the court process and support arrangements to help you be better prepared for giving evidence. They can also discuss your circumstances, and they may be able to apply to the court for you to use ‘special measures’ to help you give evidence.

Special measures are automatically available to anyone under the age of 18 and anyone who is a victim of a sexual offence, human trafficking, domestic abuse or stalking.

Special measures are also sometimes available to:

  • adult witnesses who have a mental illness or who find giving evidence stressful; and
  • adult witnesses who are at risk of harm as a result of giving evidence.

The standard special measures (which are automatically available to anyone under the age of 18 and anyone who is a victim of a sexual offence, human trafficking, domestic abuse or stalking, and at the discretion of the court for others) are:

  • screens, so you cannot see the accused, and they cannot see you directly (although they will be able to see you on a television when you give your evidence);
  • a television link to somewhere outside the courtroom so you can give evidence away from the courtroom. You’ll only be able to see and hear the person asking you questions and all cameras are controlled by the judge or sheriff; and
  • having a supporter to sit with you while you give evidence. This can be someone you know or someone from a support organisation. They can’t help you give evidence or influence your evidence in any way. If they are also a witness in the case, they can’t support you until they have given evidence.

Further special measures (allowed at the discretion of the court) are:

  • using a statement you have already given as your main evidence. This is a video or audio taped interview between you and the police, or a written statement you gave before the trial. It will be played or read out in court and you will be asked questions about what you said;
  • using evidence taken by a ‘commissioner’ (a judge or sheriff) appointed by the court. This means giving your evidence in the same way as you would in a trial, but at a different time or place than the actual court case. The evidence you give will be recorded and played at the trial;
  • closing the court while you are giving evidence, which means that members of the public will not be allowed in the courtroom. Only certain officials, and those permitted by the court, are allowed to be present.

These special measures may be used on their own or in combination. The accused can lodge objections to the use of special measures, which the court will have to take into account when considering an application. However, the accused cannot object to the standard special measures that anyone who is under 18, or a victim of a sexual offence, human trafficking, domestic abuse or stalking, is automatically entitled to use.

The person who cited you as a witness or VIA will be able to tell you how special measures might apply to you. They can let you have a booklet that explains these measures in more detail. They can also show you a film about going to court, who you are likely to meet there and what they do, and how the special measures work.

Further information on special measures can be found on the Scottish Government website www.mygov.scot/being-a-witness/help-and-support.

If you are required to give evidence in court, advice and support is available from VIA and the Witness Service (see above).


Preliminary hearings and intermediate diets

Before the main trial goes ahead, a prosecution may start with one or more short hearings that don't usually include witnesses being called. These short hearings have several purposes, including giving the lawyers an opportunity to raise and discuss legal arguments that may affect the case and to discuss the availability of witnesses. The objective of these hearings is to help a trial proceed smoothly without unnecessary delays. These hearings are called a preliminary hearing (in the High Court) or a first diet (in a Sheriff Court under solemn procedure) or an intermediate diet (in a Sheriff or Justice of the Peace Court under summary procedure).


What happens in a Sheriff Court or the High Court?

Serious criminal charges following a death on the road are heard in a Sheriff Court or the High Court. The most serious charges are heard in the High Court. If an accused person pleads guilty to a charge, the sheriff (in a Sheriff Court) or the judge (in the High Court) passes sentence, or chooses to sentence at a later date.

If an accused person pleads not guilty, then the case will go to trial. High Court trials are heard in front of a jury of 15 members of the public. Sheriff Court trials are sometimes heard in front of a jury.

If a trial is being held in front of a jury (called solemn procedure), and if it takes more than a day, then the trial is likely to occur on consecutive days. If a trial is being heard without a jury (called summary procedure) and it takes more than a day, it may be heard on several days spaced over several weeks. Summary procedures are often held in a Sheriff Court, sometimes before a judge known as a summary sheriff.

The prosecutor presents the evidence against the accused person. In the Sheriff Court, the Procurator Fiscal is the prosecutor. In the High Court, an official known as the Advocate Depute is the prosecutor.

A defence lawyer presents the evidence for the accused person. Both sides may call witnesses to give evidence. Witnesses may include eyewitnesses and expert witnesses such as police crash investigators.

Both sides may present physical evidence, such as photographs or diagrams. The Procurator Fiscal, the defence lawyer, and the sheriff or judge can all question witnesses. The accused person can choose not to give evidence.

After the evidence has been presented, the Procurator Fiscal and the defence lawyer give speeches to sum up the evidence. These speeches are intended to help the jury (or the sheriff if there isn’t a jury) decide whether the accused is guilty. If there is a jury, the sheriff or judge will also give a speech on the law to help the jury to reach a decision. For a guilty verdict, there must be at least eight votes for guilty.

To get a guilty verdict, it is up to the Procurator Fiscal to prove the case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

After the verdict has been decided, the sheriff or judge then decides the sentence, or chooses to sentence at a later date (see below). Sometimes a sheriff believes the accused should receive a higher sentence than they are able to impose in a Sheriff Court, and refers the accused to the High Court for sentencing.


What happens in a Justice of the Peace Court?

Less serious criminal charges are heard in Justice of the Peace Courts. In many instances Justice of the Peace Courts are held in buildings that also house a Sheriff Court.

Charges in Justice of the Peace Courts are heard by a Justice of the Peace (a trained member of the public) who sits with a legally qualified clerk. Procedures in a Justice of the Peace Court are similar to those in a Sheriff Court (see above). There is no jury.

If an accused person pleads guilty, the Justice of the Peace decides the sentence. If an accused person pleads not guilty, the case goes to trial and the verdict and sentence (if the verdict is guilty) is decided by the Justice of the Peace.

Justices of the Peace have different sentencing powers to judges and sheriffs. Justices of the Peace can impose fines of up to £2,500 or prison sentences of up to 60 days.

Victim Information and Advice (see Criminal investigation and charges) will be able to explain to you what is likely to happen at a planned hearing, how a case is progressing and the reasons for any delays.


If the accused is under the age of 16

If a child under the age of 16, or aged 16 or 17 and under the supervision of the Children’s Hearings System, is charged with certain offences, they may be considered for prosecution by the Procurator Fiscal. Alternatively, their case may be referred to a Children’s Reporter who works for an organisation called the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration.

When deciding what to do about a child or young person, the Reporter has three options. They can:

  • arrange a Children’s Hearing, heard in front of three trained volunteers from the community;
  • refer the case to the local authority to work with the young person to deal with the offending behaviour; or
  • decide not to arrange a Children’s Hearing nor refer the case.

Go to www.scra.gov.uk for more information for victims of youth crime.


The verdict

At trial, there are three verdicts open to the judge or jury: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. If the verdict is not guilty or not proven, the accused goes free and cannot usually be tried on the same charge again. However, in certain very serious cases, if important new evidence emerges, it may be possible for a retrial to occur (under the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011).

Sometimes an accused person changes their plea to guilty during a trial. Sometimes they plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Sometimes an accused person who is tried for a serious charge is found not guilty of that charge, but guilty of a lesser charge.


Pleas in mitigation and background reports

Before an accused person is sentenced, their lawyer will advise the judge about any mitigating factors that they think might reduce the sentence, such as an offender’s stated remorse or personal circumstances.

The judge may also ask for background information about the offender. This is required if the offender hasn’t been to prison before, or is under the age of 21 (this age requirement does not apply for the offence of murder), or is serving a community sentence. Sentencing may be delayed until a later date so this background information can be provided and the judge can give further thought to the sentence.


Sentencing

Any sentence imposed is decided by the judge, sheriff, summary sheriff or Justice of the Peace, who will take into account the nature and circumstances of the individual offence. The maximum sentence that can be imposed will vary depending on the offence and the type of court it is prosecuted in. To find out the maximum sentence that a court can impose, talk to your VIA officer.

When sentencing, various things may be taken into account, including:

  • any ‘pleas in mitigation’ or the findings of background reports (see above);
  • victim statements (see Criminal investigation and charges);
  • whether the offender pleaded guilty or not. If the offender pleaded guilty, then the sentence can be discounted (reduced). The discount depends on when the offender pleaded guilty, but can be up to a third of the sentence that would have been imposed if the case had gone to trial. A discount can also apply to driving disqualifications and the imposition of penalty points;
  • the level of sentences in similar cases in the past. This is called ‘case law’;
  • any applicable sentencing guidelines. More information about sentencing guidelines is available on the Scottish Sentencing Council’s website at www.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk;
  • whether a warning, community sentence (see below) or fine are appropriate rather than prison.

In exceptional circumstances, when a person is guilty of a charge, the judge can decide to discharge the person. This means no penalty is imposed on more serious cases (indictment) and no conviction is recorded in less serious (summary) cases. This is called an ‘absolute discharge’.

If the law changes, offenders will be sentenced according to the law at the time the offence was committed.

A court will rarely impose the maximum penalty and sometimes imposes a much lower penalty. If you don’t understand the basis for a sentencing decision, talk to your VIA officer or the Procurator Fiscal.


Community sentences

Sometimes an offender is given a community sentence rather than a prison sentence, meaning they have to serve their sentence in their community. An offender may be given a Community Payback Order which could require them to do one or more different things including:

  • up to 300 hours of unpaid work in the community;
  • attending a programme to address the underlying causes of their offending;
  • paying money (through compensation payments) to those affected by their offence;
  • following directions from the court to do, or refrain from doing, specified things; and
  • being subject to supervision by a criminal justice social worker.

If the offender has mental health, drug or alcohol abuse problems and was sentenced in a Sheriff Court or High Court, there can also be a requirement that they receive supervised treatment and their progress over time can be reviewed.

An offender may also be given a Restriction of Liberty Order which means they are electronically tagged and required to remain in a named place for a number of hours a day for up to a year. An offender can also be restricted from being in a particular place or places as part of a Restriction of Liberty Order.

More information about Community Payback Orders and community sentences is available on www.gov.scot.

Further information on sentencing is available from www.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk.


Appeals by an offender

Following a criminal case an offender may appeal against their conviction or sentence or both. If the offender pleaded guilty, they can only appeal against their sentence.

If the offender is in prison when they appeal, they can also apply for bail and in some cases may be released while waiting for the appeal. This is called ‘interim liberation’.

Almost all appeals from summary proceedings in a Sheriff Court or Justice of the Peace Court are heard by judges in the Sheriff Appeal Court in Edinburgh. Appeals from solemn proceedings are heard by judges in the High Court in Edinburgh (known as the Court of Criminal Appeal).

Two judges sit to hear an appeal against sentence. Three judges sit to hear an appeal against conviction. If the offender is appealing against their sentence alone, the court may confirm the original sentence or impose a different sentence (which may be higher or lower).

If the offender is disputing their guilt, the court may consider points of law that the offender thinks were not properly considered at the original trial. The court decides whether to uphold or quash the conviction. If the court upholds the conviction, the sentence is not revisited. If the appeal is allowed, the court may acquit the offender, convict them of a lesser charge, or order a retrial.


Appeals by the prosecution

The prosecution can appeal against a sentence, but only where it considers the sentence to be ‘unduly lenient’. If you are unhappy with a sentence passed, tell the Procurator Fiscal as soon as possible. They can tell you whether they plan to lodge an appeal.

The prosecution cannot usually appeal against a ‘not guilty’ or ‘not proven’ verdict.


When can appeals be lodged?

In solemn procedure cases, an accused is required by law to lodge a notice of intention to appeal within two weeks. In summary procedure cases, appeals must be lodged within one week. The High Court has the power to extend these periods.

Appeals against a sentence by the prosecution must be lodged within 28 days.

If you are the nearest relative, Victim Information and Advice (see Criminal investigation and charges) should tell you if there is an appeal. They can tell you if someone is granted bail before an appeal, the date of an appeal, its progress and its outcome. You can attend all appeals and take friends, family or support workers.


Will an offender serve their whole sentence in prison?

Offenders are usually released from prison before the end of their sentence. This is called ‘automatic early release’. The rest of their sentence is served ‘on licence’. An offender on licence is supervised in the community by the probation service.

Some offenders are released earlier under a special scheme called the Home Detention Curfew Scheme. This scheme requires an offender to remain at a particular address during particular hours and wear an electronic tag to monitor their movements.

Some offenders may be released for short periods on temporary licence during their prison sentence. This could be for reasons such as to attend a funeral, have medical treatment, or to prepare them for their return to the community. Offenders must return to prison at the end of a temporary licence.

Offenders sentenced to less than four years in prison are automatically released after serving half their sentence.

Offenders sentenced to four or more years in prison will be considered for discretionary release after serving half their sentence. If the Parole Board for Scotland doesn’t grant an application for early release at the first review, their case will be reconsidered every 12 months.

If the Parole Board for Scotland doesn’t grant an application for discretionary release, and the offender was sentenced before 1 February 2016, the offender will be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

If the Parole Board for Scotland doesn’t grant an application for discretionary release, and the offender was sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, the offender will not be released until the final six months of their sentence.

Offenders must be supervised in the community until the end of their sentence. This is called ‘being on licence’. If they commit an offence or otherwise breach the terms of their licence, they may be returned to prison.

The Parole Board for Scotland decides whether or not to release an offender on licence, and any licence conditions attached to the release. If the Parole Board for Scotland decides an offender should stay imprisoned, the offender can be considered again for release at a later date.

Before an offender is released, the Parole Board for Scotland must be satisfied that the offender no longer presents an unacceptable risk to public safety.

It considers factors including:

  • nature and circumstances of the offence;
  • conduct while imprisoned;
  • likelihood of committing an offence if released; and
  • what the offender intends to do when released.

Offenders who are released on licence are required to comply with certain conditions. These may include living at a certain address, a curfew, a requirement not to make contact with you, and compulsory meetings with their supervising officer. If an offender is released and they break a condition of their release (for example, if they commit another driving offence), they may have to go back to prison. The court can also impose an additional punishment on the offender when sentencing them for the new offence committed while on licence.


Will an offender serve their whole driving disqualification?

Under certain circumstances, an offender who has been disqualified from driving can apply to the court that imposed the disqualification to have the remaining period of disqualification removed. This process is normally called a ‘removal of disqualification’ application. An offender can apply to the court for a removal of disqualification after:

  • two years, if the disqualification was for more than two but fewer than four years;
  • half the disqualification period, if the disqualification was for between four and 10 years;
  • five years, if the disqualification was for 10 years or more (including disqualification for life).

The court will take into account the offender’s reasons for the application, and consider information from the police about the offender’s behaviour since the disqualification was imposed. If the court refuses the application, the offender can reapply after three months.

The law sets out the minimum period of a driving disqualification but courts can impose longer periods of disqualification, including life bans. Courts may also be required to lengthen an offender’s driving disqualification if the offender is spending time in prison.

For more information about the Parole Board for Scotland, go to www.scottishparoleboard.gov.uk.


The Victim Notification Scheme

Up to four close relatives of a person who died can choose whether or not they want to register with the Victim Notification Scheme. This scheme has two parts and you can choose to register for either or both parts.

Part one entitles you to know certain information.

You should be told within 48 hours:

  • the date of the offender’s release;
  • if the offender dies before being released;
  • if the offender is transferred out of Scotland;
  • if the offended is eligible for temporary release (for example, for training programmes or home leave);
  • if the offender escapes or absconds (doesn’t come back when recalled);
  • if the offender returns to prison for a reason connected with your case; and
  • if the offender has been granted permission to leave hospital without an escort or supervision.

Part two entitles you to know if an offender is being considered for parole or for release with an electronic tag. You have the right to send written comments to the Parole Board for Scotland if the prisoner is being considered for release on parole; or to the Scottish Prison Service if the prisoner is being considered for release with an electronic tag (Home Detention Curfew) or temporary release. Your thoughts should be taken into account when decisions are being made regarding any conditions imposed on the prisoner’s release (for example, if the prisoner must not contact you). You should be informed if the Parole Board for Scotland or the Scottish Prison Service has recommended the release of an offender. You should also be informed if there any conditions of the release that affect you. If the prisoner is serving a life sentence and being considered for release, you should have the opportunity to make your thoughts known in a meeting with the Parole Board for Scotland.

If you are eligible for the Victim Notification Scheme, the Procurator Fiscal or your VIA contact should get in touch with you and give you an application form to fill out and send to the Scottish Prison Service. You can choose to opt in, or out, of this scheme at any time prior to the prisoner being due for release.

If the offender has been sentenced to less than 18 months in prison, you are only entitled to receive information about the release or escape of the offender. You can write to the Scottish Prison Service and ask them to provide you with this information - go to www.sps.gov.uk for details.

You can find out more about the Victim Notification Scheme from the Scottish Prison Service on 0131 330 3664 or at www.sps.gov.uk.

For more information about the scheme, go to www.mygov.scot. Victim Support Scotland can provide support to help you register for the Victim Notification Scheme. For more information, go to www.victimsupportsco.org.uk/help-for-victims.

If the offender has a mental disorder, and is being treated in hospital, you may be entitled to receive information about their release through the Compulsion Order and Restriction Order (CORO) Victim Notification Scheme. For more information about this scheme, go to www.mygov.scot.


Fatal Accident Inquiries

A Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) is a public hearing in front of a sheriff, usually at the Sheriff Court nearest to where the death happened.


Will an FAI happen in my case?

An FAI can be held following a road death. The purpose of an FAI is to establish the circumstances of a death, and consider what steps might be taken to prevent other deaths in similar circumstances.

An FAI will be held into all deaths where ‘the death was the result of an accident which occurred in Scotland, and while the person was acting in the course of their employment or occupation’. An FAI may also be held ‘where a death was sudden, suspicious or unexplained, or occurred in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern and where it appears to the Lord Advocate to be in the public interest to hold an inquiry into the circumstances’. This is called a ‘discretionary’ FAI.

An FAI may be considered if, for example, a death on the road raised particular concerns about public safety, for example, if poor road layout or road signage contributed to a crash. An FAI will be held if someone died in a crash while working - for example a lorry driver.

Unlike a criminal trial or a civil case, an FAI's purpose is to determine what caused a death and to prevent further deaths or injuries. It is not to apportion blame, punish, or seek compensation.

If criminal proceedings sufficiently established what happened, it may be decided that an FAI is unnecessary.


Who decides if an FAI should be held?

If the Procurator Fiscal considers that there should be an FAI, they should have a meeting with the nearest relative. If you are invited to a meeting, you may wish to consult a solicitor (see below) to help you plan what you want to say. The Procurator Fiscal will then prepare a report that includes your views on the holding of an FAI.

This report is then sent to senior lawyers called Crown Counsel. Crown Counsel then decide if there should be an FAI or not. The final decision lies with the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate is responsible for the investigation of deaths and prosecution of crimes in Scotland.

In accordance with the COPFS Family Liaison Charter (see Criminal investigation and charges), once Crown Counsel has decided whether or not an FAI will be held, the Procurator Fiscal will advise you of this decision within 14 days. If an FAI is going to be held, the Procurator Fiscal will inform you about its timing. If an FAI is not going to be held, a meeting will be offered to explain why, and the reasons put in writing, unless you don’t want reasons in writing. (You can change your mind and ask for written reasons later on.)

If you are unhappy about the decision to hold, or not hold, an FAI, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed by a senior Crown Counsel not involved in the original decision.


What happens at an FAI?

Police, expert witnesses and witnesses may be requested to attend and give evidence to an FAI.

The nearest relative is entitled to participate in an FAI by asking witnesses questions, or instructing a solicitor to do this for them. There are solicitors that specialise in representation at FAIs. Call the Law Society of Scotland on 0131 226 7411. Legal aid may be available to fund the cost of representation.

If you are pursuing a claim for money (see Can I claim compensation?) and there is an FAI, the solicitor handling your claim may wish to attend the FAI. Other interested parties can, with the permission of the sheriff, also participate in the FAI and ask questions or be represented.


The FAI determination

At the end of an FAI the sheriff delivers a decision called a determination. The determination can state:

  • when and where the death occurred;
  • when and where the incident resulting in the death occurred;
  • the cause or causes of the death;
  • the cause or causes of the incident resulting in the death;
  • any precautions that could reasonably have been taken, and, had they been taken, might realistically have resulted in the death, or the incident resulting in the death, being avoided;
  • any defects in any system of working which contributed to the death or any incident resulting in the death; and
  • any other facts relevant to the circumstances of the death.

The determination may include making recommendations to an individual or group that aim to prevent more deaths happening in the same way. If the individual or group participated in the FAI, they must provide written details of how they will implement the recommendations. If they decide not to follow the recommendations, they must explain why.


Challenging an FAI determination

In certain cases, bereaved people have challenged FAI determinations through a process called judicial review. If you want to find out if this might be possible, you will need to consult a solicitor specialising in judicial reviews.


Having your say about criminal justice

If you have a comment or concern about the criminal justice system, you have a right to be heard and your point of view considered. Speaking up may also help improve criminal justice in the future.

For information on making a comment or complaint about the police, go to www.pirc.scotland.gov.uk or call Police Scotland on 101. If you feel that your complaint has not been handled correctly, call 0808 178 5577 or 01698 542900.

For information on making a comment or complaint about the Procurator Fiscal or a criminal prosecution go to www.copfs.gov.uk and click on 'comments and complaints' or call 0300 020 3000.

For information on making a comment or complaint about the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, go to www.scotcourts.gov.uk.

 The Standards of Service for Victims and Witnesses sets out the standards you should expect from the Criminal Justice System with regard to accessing information, receiving support, and participation in proceedings. You can download these standards from www.sps.gov.uk, or get a copy from your police or VIA contact, the Procurator Fiscal or your local court.

As a victim or witness of crime, you have certain rights. The Victims’ Code for Scotland sets out these rights and who to contact for help and advice.

You can download this document from www.mygov.scot/victimscode-for-scotland or get a copy from your police or VIA contact or from the Procurator Fiscal. You can call 0131 244 4227 to request it in another language.


If you are not satisfied with a response you receive

Complaint policies usually explain steps you can take if you are not satisfied with a response. Usually, this includes giving you the chance to have your comments considered by someone else, such as someone more senior.

If you are still not satisfied with another response you receive, a complaint policy may give you further opportunities, such as having your comments considered by a specialist team, or by the boss of the organisation. There may also be an opportunity to have your comments considered by an independent agency. For example, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner investigates complaints about the police.


Having your say to the government

Criminal justice organisations are set up and regulated by the government, and are the responsibility of particular government departments and their ministers, elected by you.

If you feel your concerns have not been answered by a criminal justice organisation and you wish to raise your concerns with the government, you have a right to do this.

Any criminal justice organisation can confirm for you which government minister they report to, in which department, and how to contact that minister.

You may choose to contact a minister directly, or through your MP or MSP. You can also contact the Scottish Ombudsman, who is responsible for investigating complaints about government departments. For more information go to www.spso.org.uk.

You may also wish to join one of several organisations campaigning for criminal justice in road death cases. See Useful organisations.


Seeking help to have your voice heard

If you are not sure how to have your voice heard, or you need help preparing what you want to say, call the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401. Its officers are experienced in helping you to get your thoughts across to the most appropriate people.


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Tags: legal advice