Summary or Solemn Procedure?

You can now find relatively detailed guides to each step of solemn and summary procedure by using the drop-down menus in the “Procedure” section of the main site menu.

There are two types of criminal procedure in Scotland: “summary” procedure and “solemn” procedure.

The general principle is that, the more serious the allegation, the more likely it will be a solemn prosecution.

Once a decision is taken to prosecute a crime, it is almost always up to COPFS to decide which procedure to use. The only exceptions (that I am aware of) are set out in s3(6) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995:

s3-6 cpsa1995

In other words, COPFS must prosecute murder, treason, rape and breach of duty by magistrates in the High Court, which only deals with solemn prosecutions.

In most cases it will be obvious which procedure is to be used (e.g. you aren’t going to prosecute a sole charge of careless driving on indictment). Generally, though, it is up to COPFS to decide whether the charge is serious enough to prosecute using solemn procedure.

What are the differences between the two procedures?

These are the main features of summary cases:

  • They are prosecuted in either the Justice of the Peace Court or the Sheriff Court
  • The document that sets out the charges that the accused faces is a “complaint”.
  • Summary trials are heard by either a Justice of the Peace or a Sheriff sitting alone, without a jury.
  • Generally, the maximum sentence on conviction on summary complaint is one year’s imprisonment.

These are the main features of solemn cases:

  • They are prosecuted in either the Sheriff Court or the High Court.
  • The document that initially sets out the charges that the accused faces is a “petition”. The accused is later served with an “indictment” that finalises the charges to be faced.
  • Solemn trials are heard by a jury.
  • Generally, the maximum sentence upon conviction on indictment is life imprisonment.

They are both distinct from one another in a procedural sense. You can use the links below to follow each procedure from first appearance to trial.

Summary Procedure

  1. The Complaint
  2. The First Appearance
  3. The Intermediate Diet
  4. The Trial

Solemn Procedure

  1. The Petition
  2. Appearance on Petition & Full Committal
  3. Pleading Guilty by Section 76 Procedure
  4. The Indictment
  5. The Preliminary Hearing / The First Diet
  6. Jury Trial