Sentences and Appeals



The legal terms used on this page are explained in our jargon buster.



There is a wide range of disposals that a judge can give in criminal court cases. A disposal is the sentence or outcome of the case. It will depend upon the law, as well as the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Listed here are some of the main options available to Scottish judges - as well as sections on appeals and criminal records.


These are sentences or outcomes which are not prison sentences. 

Without punishment


Absolute Discharge

This is when the judge decides that a person convicted of a crime should not be given a sentence. This means there is no punishment. In summary cases (less serious cases), no conviction is recorded. However, for some purposes (for example if the person is convicted of another crime in the future) it may appear as a previous conviction. Reasons for an absolute discharge could be because the crime was very minor, the offender was previously of good character or the offender is very young or old.



This is a warning to an offender not to commit another crime, but no punishment is given. However, the crime is recorded as a conviction on a criminal record.

Community based






Imprisonment is the most severe sentence a judge can give. It can only be given if there is no other appropriate way of dealing with the person.


Read more about prison sentences



Detention is when youths aged 16 to 21 are sent to a young offenders’ institution, rather than prison. These institutions are similar to prisons but the programmes in place are aimed at people up to the age of 23.





If a person thinks that they should not have been found guilty of a crime, or that their sentence is wrong, they can appeal either (or both) of these decisions. However, they can only appeal a guilty verdict given by a jury if it is about a point of law.

On appeal, they can ask for their case to go back to court to be heard by different judges (appeal judges). Based on legal matters and evidence, judges will decide whether the case can be appealed or not.

If the appeal is allowed against a guilty verdict, the appeal judges can:

 - find that the offender is guilty

 - find that the offender is not guilty

 - order the trial to be heard again.

If the appeal is allowed against a sentence, the appeal judges can:

 - reduce the sentence 

 - make no change to the sentence 

 - increase the sentence.

If the appeal is allowed, an offender who has been sentenced to imprisonment, may be released while waiting for the case to return to court.  

Crown Appeal

The prosecutor - who puts the case against the offender in a trial - can appeal against a sentence if they think it is too low (below what would be the normal range). In some cases they can appeal against a ‘not guilty’ or ‘not proven’ verdict. But this is only when a judge heard the case without a jury and the appeal is about a point of law.


Criminal record

Criminal record

When an offender is convicted of a crime, it is marked on their criminal record. This is held on the Criminal History System which is owned by the Scottish Police Authority. Offenders must say they have a criminal record when applying for a job. Disclosure Scotland provides information about whether someone has convictions. After a certain amount of time, most offences become 'spent' and are no longer on the record. Serious crimes such as murder can never be 'spent'.


Disclosure Scotland