The Complaint

Summary cases are initiated by serving a document called a “complaint” upon the accused. A complaint looks something like this (fictional) example:


A complaint will identify the court in which the case is to be prosecuted (either JP or Sheriff Court, and where it is), identify the accused, state the charge(s) against them and be signed by a Procurator Fiscal Depute. It can also contain warrants to apprehend and search the accused (not shown above).

Service of a complaint can be effected in the following ways:

  • Through the post (also known as a “citation”). This can happen after an encounter with the police that ends with the police informing the accused that they will be “reported for summons”. The citation will provide the accused with a copy of the complaint, a “summary of evidence” (often an abridged version of the police report), schedule of their previous convictions (if any), notification of the place & time at which the case will first call in court, and the option to enter a plea via post by filling in a form and returning it to COPFS.


  • If the accused has been released from police custody on an “undertaking” (a signed promise from the accused to turn up at court on a specified date and time), the police will make a report to COPFS in the meantime. If COPFS decide to prosecute the accused, then a complaint will be handed to them when they appear at court, and a first appearance will take place on the same date.


  • If the accused has been held in police custody, they must be taken to court “before the end of the first day on which the court is sitting after the day…[that the person was arrested]…or as soon as practicable after that.” (In other words, if you’re arrested on a Friday afternoon, you’ll be stuck in the cells over the weekend). The police will make a report to COPFS, and the case will be “marked” urgently. If the decision is made to prosecute the accused on summary complaint, a complaint will be produced and served on the accused in the Sheriff Court cells. The first appearance (from custody) will take place on the same date.


Next: The First Appearance

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