The majority of criminal and civil cases in Scotland are heard in the sheriff court. Most sheriffs are resident to a particular court, but some float between courts, sitting wherever they are required.
Sheriffs can deal with any crimes except murder, rape and treason. There are two types of criminal procedure in Scotland: solemn procedure (for more serious offences) and summary procedure. In solemn cases, when a trial is held against a person accused of a crime, a jury decides the verdict. In summary cases the sheriff, sitting alone, decides the verdict.
In civil cases, all cases with a value of £100,000 or less must be heard in the sheriff court, however, there is no upper limit to the value of the cases that can be heard here. Sheriffs deal with many complex and difficult cases, including those involving debt, compensation, contract disputes, bankruptcy, company liquidation, eviction and anti-social behaviour. They hear almost all family actions, such as divorce, child welfare and adoptions, and preside over appeals or disputes from children’s hearings. More information is available on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website.
There are many different legal appeals and applications made to sheriffs including those in relation to licensing, gaming, gun control, and adults with incapacity.
Sheriff Appeal Court
The Sheriff Appeal Court sits as both a criminal and civil court.
More information in relation to what types of cases are appealed to the Court is available:
Sheriff Appeal Court – Criminal
Sheriff Appeal Court – Civil.
Fatal Accident Inquiries
Sheriffs conduct fatal accident inquiries into sudden or suspicious deaths, and may make recommendations in the public interest. More information is available on the Scottish Government website.
They also have numerous administrative and advisory responsibilities, for example managing cases or sitting on justice organisations such as the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
For more information see the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland website.
Read about how sheriffs are appointed.
Sheriffs in Scotland have formed an independent association which represents, safeguards and promotes the interests and welfare of their members and considers matters relating to the law and the administration of justice in Scotland. Read more about the Sheriffs' Association..