The different types of courts in Scotland reflect the seriousness of crimes. Murder and violent crime are always the most serious offences. Scottish criminal trial courts can deliver one of three possible verdicts - one of conviction (‘guilty’) and two of acquittal (‘not proven’ and ‘not guilty’).
A ‘guilty’ verdict means that the jury, after listening to and studying the evidence, has found the defendant to be guilty ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ of the crime he or she is charged with. The defendant is punished accordingly.
A ‘not guilty’ verdict means that the jury, after listening to and studying the evidence, has found the defendant to be not guilty of the crime he/she is charged with and they can walk free.
The ‘not proven’ verdict is unique to Scotland and has in the past been controversial. Not proven means that the jury believes the accused may have committed the crime but does not have sufficient evidence beyond all reasonable doubt to return a guilty verdict.
The High Court is Scotland's highest criminal court. Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen have permanent High Court buildings. Each deals with the most serious crimes such as treason, murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and sexual offences involving children.
There are sheriff courts throughout Scotland to deal with crimes that are too serious for a Justice of the Peace Court but not serious enough for a High Court.
As the lowest level of the criminal court system, Justice of the Peace Courts handle much less serious crimes such as breach of the peace, minor assaults, road traffic offences and petty theft.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the UK. As an appeal court, The Supreme Court cannot consider a case unless a relevant order has been made in a lower court.