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Glossary of legal terms

The criminal justice process can be difficult to navigate. Here is a list of terms and definitions to help you make sense of it.

  • Accused: The person charged with a crime
  • Adjournment: A break in court proceedings. This might be for lunch, overnight or to a completely new date.
  • Appeal: A challenge to the accused’s conviction and/or sentence. The prosecution can only appeal against an unduly lenient sentence.
  • Appear on petition: The Accused's preliminary (first) appearances in court. These are held in private. The accused will be granted bail or remanded in custody.
  • Attempted rape: when a perpetrator tries to rape someone, but does not manage to.
  • Bail: When the Accused is released from Custody by a court. The Accused has to agree to certain conditions before they are released. See also Undertaking.
  • C.I.D: Criminal Investigation Department.
  • Citation: formal letter from the Procurator Fiscal which tells a Witness to attend court to give evidence at a trial. It says where the court is, and the date and time the witness has to be there.
  • Corroboration: is the need for more than one independent source of evidence. An Accused cannot be convicted of a crime in Scotland unless there is corroboration showing that a crime has been committed and that the Accused was responsible for that crime. Each of these elements must have at least two independent sources of evidence. However, one piece of evidence may be used to prove more than one element.
  • Court Advocacy Worker: every Rape Crisis Centre has a court advocacy worker who can support you through the criminal justice process.
  • Crown Counsel: senior prosecutors (also known as Advocates Depute) who decide whether a criminal prosecution should take place against whom and for what charges.
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS): independent prosecution service for Scotland. May also be referred to as the crown, the prosecution or procurator fiscal (pf).
  • Custody: When the accused is held in either the police or the court cells until it is decided whether they will be released on bail or kept on remand.
  • DNA: a substance found in all cells of the human body including body fluids such as blood. Samples of the DNA may provide evidence (for example the identity of the attacker).
  • F.M.E.: forensic medical examiner, police doctor. This is the person who will do a forensic medical exam, you have the right to ask for a female doctor.
  • Forensic Evidence: the scientific evidence collected from a victim, a crime scene and others, such as fingerprints and DNA. Samples may be gathered from a victim by Forensic Examination. A case can go ahead without Forensic Evidence.
  • Forensic Examination: an examination by a doctor to gather evidence of the crime. This will involve a visual examination, swabs internal/external. You have the right not to consent, to delay it or to consent to part of it and not all of it (e.g. vaginal not anal).
  • Hearing: any time when part of the trial takes place in a court. There can be several hearings in the course of a trial.
  • High Court: a supreme court of justice. Most sexual offences will be heard in the high court. The high courts are in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Livingston.
  • Incest: sexual intercourse between people related to one another (as specified by law).
  • Indictment: the document that is served on the accused (given to the accused) that sets out the charge(s) in writing which the accused will be brought to court for. Once the indictment is served you know the case will go court, before this there is nothing definite.
  • Judge: presided over cases heard in the High Court. In a Sheriff Court, the judge is called a Sheriff. The judge oversees the trial and decides on the Sentence.
  • Jury: 15 members of the public, chosen randomly, who listen to the evidence and decide on the Verdict.
  • Licence: If an offender is released from prison before the end of their sentence, the licence sets out the conditions of behaviour which they must meet.
  • Locus: location where an incident took place.
  • Lord Advocate: Scotland’s senior prosecutor with overall responsibility for prosecuting crime
  • Not Proven: Not proven verdict is available to a court in Scotland. Under Scots law a criminal trial may end in one of three verdicts. One of conviction (guilty) and two of acquittal ("not proven" and "not guilty"). A not proven verdict means that there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt or innocence.
  • Oath: promise to tell the truth by raising your right hand and swearing ‘by almighty God’. If you do not believe in God, you can take an affirmation which is a non-religious version of an oath.
  • Parole: when an offender is released from prison before the end of the sentence. The release is subject to Licence. The offender may still be under SUPERVISION in the community
  • Perpetrator (Perp): a person who carries out a harmful, illegal or immoral act. May also be referred to as the Accused in legal proceedings.
  • Petition: the first document which sets out the charge(s) against the Accused and starts the formal court process. An accused person is often referred to as being on petition whilst the court process is ongoing. If an accused has been released on bail, the court has 365 days to set trial dates. If the accused has been remanded, the court has 110 days to set trial dates.
  • Plea: The Accused’s answer to the charge(s). This may be guilty, not guilty or no plea. If the accused pleads guilty there will be no trial and you will not have to give evidence. A date will then be set for sentencing. If the accused pleads not guilty.
  • Precognition: A meeting which happends wither with the Defence or the Procurator Fiscal to gather information from the Witness and discuss statements. This usually involves interviewing witnesses and taking a statement
  • Preliminary hearing: First time accused appears in court after Indictment for a trial date to be set. It is possible for a Witness to be cited to attend a preliminary hearing. But generally witnesses do not have to attend.
  • Proceedings: general term for the court process.
  • Procurator Fiscal (PF or fiscal): A lawyer who is the public official responsible for investigating rape and sexual assault on behalf of the crown and procurator fiscal service.
  • Remand or 'Remanded in Custody': when a person is kept in a police cell or prison before a court appearance. This can be for up to a total of 110 days.
  • R.I.U : Rape Investigation Unit
  • Rape: when a person uses their penis to penetrate someone's vagina, anus or mouth without their consent (the person did not agree to it). The victim of the offence can be a man or a woman
  • S.275: application to raise someone's sexual history, medical or character evience in court. The application can be made by the prosecution or the defence but must by approved by a judge. If you are asked for permission for the court to have access to medical records etc please get in touch with our court advocacy worker.
  • SENTENCE: the punishment imposed on the ACCUSED such as time in prison.
  • Sexual Assault by Penetration: when a person sexually penetrates the vagina or anus of the victim without their consent. The penetration could involve a part of the attacker's body (for example a finger) or an object. The attacker might also use his penis. There is an overlap between the offences of 'rape' and 'sexual assault by penetration'. This is to cover cases where the victim is not sure if they were penetrated by a penis, for example, because they were blindfolded at the time.
  • Sexual Coercion: (intended mainly to cover situations where someone forces someone to have sex).
  • Sheriff: judge in the Sheriff Court (local to you).
  • Sheriff Court: the principal local civil and criminal court in Scotland. Has the jurisdiction to hear any criminal case excluding treason, murder and rape. Dealt with by the sheriff not jury.
  • Solemn Procedure: when a trial takes place in front of a judge and jury.
  • SOLO: Sexual offences liason officer. They will be appointed by the police to handle your case and should be the same one throughout the process.
  • Special Measure: a form of support which may be considered for a witness to help them give evidence such as screens, a tv link or a supporter in court
  • Summary Procedure: when a trial takes place in front of a judge and no jury.
  • Supervision the prisoner is released on a licence with specific conditions attached and is supervised by the local authority criminal justice services.
  • S.275: application to raise someone's medical history which may include sexual history (must be approved by a judge)
  • V.I.A. Officer: officer who can provide victim information and advice if your case is going to court and is likely to result in criminal charges against someone; domestic abuse, child victims of witnesses, hate crime, sexual crime. They will give you information about the criminal system keep you informed about the progress of the case and put you in touch with other organisations which may help you.
  • Victim Impact Statement: written statement which allows victims or, in some cases, their relatives to tell the court how the crime affected them. This will be considered by the judge before sentencing, if the accused has been found guilty. The accused has access to this statement.
  • Verdict: the decision made by the JURY. The options are guilty, not guilty or Not Proven.
  • Warrant: a court document which allows the police to take certain action such as to arrest someone or search the premises.
  • Witness: person who gives evidence to the court. If you have experienced sexual violence you will be referred to as a Witness during the court case.

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