Key Points

  • Scotland’s criminal justice system developed relatively autonomously from that of the rest of the UK following the Act of Union in 1707. Pre-devolution, there was relatively little disruption to the criminal justice system in Scotland arguably because its distinctive underlying principles, such as a prominent welfare-based ethos, were already deeply embedded.
  • The period following devolution marks one of the most significant periods of change within Scottish criminal justice in terms of both institutional transformation and penal policy development.
  • The post-devolution period marked one of the most turbulent periods in policing history, with the establishment of a new single police force which was subject to major controversy, intense public scrutiny and political intervention.
  • According to both police-recorded crime statistics and Scottish crime surveys, there were significant falls in most crime types, but especially crimes of dishonesty and non-sexual crimes of violence.
  • Scotland had gained a particular reputation for violence so the fall in violent crime was welcome, although it mainly consisted of a drop in serious forms of violence, whereas there is evidence of an increase in low-level petty assault over the same period.
  • In international terms, trends in violence have seen less consistent patterns of change than for crimes of dishonesty, and while Scotland has seen a drop in violent crime it still tends to be high in comparison to other countries.