The Petition

Solemn procedure tends to begin when an accused, having been arrested by the police on suspicion of committing a crime, is served with a “petition”. In most cases, this will be done in the Sheriff Court cells, where the accused is being held pending the “marking” of the case by COPFS prosecutors. Occasionally, though, an accused will attend court on an “undertaking” and be served with a petition rather than a summary complaint. 

Proceedings can also begin by the grant of a “petition warrant” to apprehend the accused, and in some cases by the service of an indictment on an accused person, without their having appeared on petition in the first place. This latter scenario can take place when the decision is taken to charge a co-accused alongside someone who has previously appeared on petition.

A petition specifies (where known) the name, address and date of birth of the accused. It also sets out the charges that the accused faces at that particular point in time. However, unlike a summary complaint, the charges on a petition can significantly differ from the charges which the accused may later face at trial. This is because, at such an early stage of proceedings, the full investigation into the alleged offence(s) will probably not have concluded. There is also scope for the factual position to significantly change. For example, an accused person might appear on a petition alleging assault to severe injury, having been arrested immediately after a fight in the street the previous night. If the victim subsequently dies, the accused could expect the subsequent indictment to allege murder or culpable homicide instead. In this way, the petition only needs to state the nature of the charge against the accused.

The petition also contains standard-form requests for various warrants, such as for search of the accused and his premises (including the opening of lockfast places), the citation of witnesses for precognition and and production of evidence, and the eventual “committal” of the accused for further examination or until liberated in due course of law.

In practice, a petition tends to include a “summary of evidence” in the same way that a summary complaint does.