Below is a list of Scots legal terms and offences libelled
which you are likely to come across when using court records
held at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS). The list
is not comprehensive but is intended to include the most common
terms. It is offered as a research aid and does not claim to be a legal encyclopaedia.
In certain circumstances, when the court has found a person tried
to be guilty, instead of sentencing, it may make an order discharging
them absolutely. This is competent where the offender is convicted
on indictment, or where he is charged before a court of summary
jurisdiction with an offence which the court is satisfied he committed.
In either case the court must be of the opinion, having regard to
the circumstances, that it is inexpedient to inflict punishment.
Absconding from justice
e.g. failure to appear for trial.
Accused (see Pannel)
A person charged with the commission of a crime or offence.
Acts of Adjournal
Acts made by the High Court of Justiciary which contain rules for
regulating court procedure.
Admonished (also: Admonition)
If a person is found guilty, and the offence is considered trifling,
or there are special circumstances associated with the accused or
the offence, the court may dismiss the person with an admonition.
Advocate appointed by the Lord Advocate to assist him and the Solicitor
General in the discharge of their functions. Also known as Crown
Aggravated assault (examples of indictments):
- Assault to injury/ to severe injury/ to injury of the person/
to permanent disfigurement/ to the effusion of blood/ to the danger
of life/ by cutting and stabbing
- Indecent assault (see Rape)
- Assault with intent to ravish (see Rape)
Appellant (see Court of Criminal Appeal)
A person who appeals to a higher court against the decision of a
lower (inferior) court.
Art and part
Acting in the capacity of an accessory or accomplice.
Assault (also: assault with attempt to rob; assault and
Any act of violence or attack on the person, including an attack
List of potential jurors.
Assoilzied (Assoilzied simpliciter)
To free, or to be absolved of guilt.
When a judge decides to take time to consider a case, reach a decision
and write the judgement, the court is said 'to make avizandum'.
When a person charged with a crime applies to the court for liberation
on bail. The prosecutor is entitled to be heard, and to seek a refusal
of bail. The crimes of murder and treason are not bailable.
Bail bond forfeited
Failure of the accused to appear for trial and bail bond retained
Banishment, either from Scotland or from a county, was a sentencing
option available to the courts until the early 19th century.
Base coin (also: Contravention of 2 Will. IV, c. 34; 24
& 25 Vict.)
Manufacturing, forging or using counterfeit coins or money.
Unnatural carnal connection or sexual intercourse with animals.
Knowingly entering into an unlawful marriage with a third party
while the previous spouse is still alive (includes contravention
of 17 & 18 Vict., c. 80, s. 60 (Registration Act))
Breach of the peace
Crime used to cover a wide range of socially disruptive or offensive
behaviour. Typically, a public disturbance by an individual, or
individuals, or conduct interfering with the peace of a neighbourhood.
Breach of trust and embezzlement (Breach of trust, fraud
Felonious appropriation of what has been entrusted to the accused.
Burden of proof (see Proven and Not proven)
The onus, or burden, of proving the case against an accused. The
prosecution (Crown) has to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The death penalty, or death by hanging. Until 1834, there were almost
fifty capital crimes in Scotland, but the numbers were reduced by
statute. Eventually the death penalty was restricted to cases of
murder, attempted murder and treason until its abolition in 1964.
Cattle-stealing (also: Horse-stealing and Sheep-stealing)
Theft of livestock.
Celebrating clandestine marriages
Conducting unlawful marriages.
Child murder, or concealment of pregnancy (Contravention
of Concealment of Birth (Scotland) Act 1809; Con. 49 Geo. III, c.
When a woman concealed her pregnancy during its course and did not
seek help or assistance at the birth, and the child was found dead
or missing. Concealment meant non-disclosure not merely active deception.
Clandestine injury (see Rape)
Sexual intercourse with a sleeping or unconscious woman
A person charged with a serious crime may be committed to remain
in an institution pending trial on indictment.
Coining and uttering base coin (see Base coin)
Concealment of pregnancy (see Child murder).
Contempt of court
Disregard for the authority of the court, including commiting disorderly
behaviour in court, improper conduct intended to influence the course
of justice, or bringing the administration of justice into disrepute.
Where two or more persons agree to carry out a criminal purpose.
Court of Criminal Appeal
Established under The Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act 1926. Consists
of three judges to hear appeals for criminal cases falling under
Culpable and reckless conduct (also: Culpable violation
and neglect of duty)
Culpable and reckless acts which cause injury to others or which
create a risk of injury.
Culpable homicide (voluntary/ involuntary)
Intentional/ reckless act with some diminishing factor/ death caused
unintentionally by criminal act or culpable negligence
Deforcement (also: Obstructing etc.)
Resistance to messengers-at-arms, customs officers, police or other
officers while employed in the execution of their legal duties.
A sitting, or meeting of the court for the purpose of taking steps
in the proceedings in any prosecution.
A sitting abandoned.
Diet deserted pro loco et tempore
A sitting abandoned for another time and place.
Embezzlement (see Breach of trust)
Extortion (also: Attempted extortion)
Where goods are obtained by a threat of future violence or some
other kind of threat
Falsely accusing another of committing a crime.
Falsehood, fraud and wilful imposition (also: Fraud; Falsehood;
Falsehood and Wilful imposition)
Fraud or falsehood by word of mouth, writing or conduct; fraud,
uttered with the intent to cheat; and wilful imposition, with the
intention that it has been carried into effect.
Firearms offences (examples)
Firing a loaded weapon with intent to cause injury or death
- Discharging a loaded firearm/ gun, or fowling piece/ revolver/
- Assault by firing a loaded firearm/ gun/ revolver etc.
- Contravention of 10 Geo. IV, c. 38, s. 2
Fire-raising (see Wilful fire-raising)
Fisheries offences (see Poaching)
Forgery (also: Uttering forged writings)
Forgery per se is not a crime. The crime is uttering, i.e. using
as genuine a fabricated writing falsely intended to pass as genuine
the writing of another person.
Fraud (see Falsehood etc.)
Sentence imposed upon an accused who fails to appear for trial at
the appointed diet (declared 'outlaw and fugitive', or sentence
of 'outlawry' imposed)
Furtum usus (Latin)
Clandestinely taking possession of and using
Habit and repute
A criminal by habit and repute; an habitual criminal
Assault upon a person in the victims home
High Court (The High Court of Justiciary)
The supreme criminal court in Scotland. It consists of the Lord
Justice-General (who is the head of the court and the same person
as the Lord President of the Court of Session, the supreme civil
court), the Lord Justice-Clerk, and the other judges of the Court
of Session. When sitting in the Court of Justiciary, the judges
are known as Lords Commissioners of Justiciary.
Housebreaking (also: Housebreaking with intent to rob)
Unauthorised affected entry of building which is secured.
Offences committed under the Incest Act, 1567. This could be
construed as sexual intercourse with ascendants up to great-grandparents
and descendants down to great-grandchildren, with brothers or sisters,
nephews or nieces, aunts or uncles, and adoptive or former adoptive
parents and children. The offence is committed where the relationships
are of half blood as well as full blood.
A court of lesser jurisdiction. In Scotland these would be sheriff
courts, justice of the peace courts, burgh courts and police courts.
Served on the accused. It lays down the charges about the commission
of a serious offence or charge.
Enter. Occurs before noting a person or persons present in court
eg 'Intran Thomas Baikie present prisoner in the Tolbooth of Inverness'.
A power to hear and decide. The High Court is a court of 'first
instance' and has the power to hear and decide cases coming before
Lewd practices (also: Lewd, indecent and libidinous practices
Criminal actions used towards children under the age of puberty.
Also an offence if committed against a girl between the age of 12
and 16 years.
Lord Advocate (see Advocate Depute)
The senior law officer of the Crown in Scotland responsible for
the taking of criminal proceedings.
Malicious mischief (also: Malicious damage)
Destruction or injury to property without the direct intention of
removing it from its rightful owner, including a deliberate or wicked
intent to injure.
Mobbing and rioting
Forming part of a mob engaged in disorderly, criminal behaviour.
The crime consists in combining to the alarm of the lieges (public)
for an illegal purpose, or in order to carry out a legal purpose
by illegal means, e.g. violence or intimidation. It is the common
purpose which distinguishes it from Breach of the Peace.
Murder (also: Attempted murder)
Unlawful killing of another with intent to kill, or with wicked
recklessness to life.
Not proven (see Burden of proof)
The Crown has failed to prove the case against the accused beyond
reasonable doubt. It is the equivalent of a not guilty
verdict. Both verdicts are acquittals, and have the effect that
the accused cannot be tried again for the same offence.
Obstructing and deforcing officers (see Deforcement)
Opening lockfast place (see Theft)
Breaking into a locked premises/house/safe.
Pannel (see Accused)
Person brought to trial; the accused.
Judicial affirmation of falsehood while under oath.
Theft of an infant.
Poaching (also: Night-poaching; Con. Night Poaching Act,
1828 & 1844; Con. Game (Scotland) Act, 1832)
The unlawful taking of game or rabbits by night.
An example, the judgement of a court or a proposition of law, which
may or must be followed.
A precognition is a preliminary examination of a person who may
be required to give evidence in a criminal trial or civil proof.
The public prosecutor in inferior courts.
Proven (see Burden of proof)
The Crown has proven the case against an accused beyond reasonable
doubt. It is the equivalent of a 'guilty'verdict.
Escaping from lawful confinement.
Rape (also: Attempted rape; Assault with
intent to ravish; Clandestine injury; Indecent assault)
Sexual intercourse with a woman by means of the forcible overcoming
of her will. Offences such as the carnal knowledge of a woman while
asleep, or connection with a women rendered insensible by drink,
may be indicted as 'clandestine injury' or 'indecent assault'.
Feloniously receiving or retaining goods, obtained by theft,
robbery etc., knowing that they have been dishonestly appropriated.
Road traffic offences (examples)
- Contravention of the Motor Car Act, 1903
- Contravention of the Road Traffic Act, 1930
Felonious appropriation of property by means of personal violence.
The property does not require to be upon the owner at the time.
Attempting to disturb the tranquillity of the State for the purpose
of producing public trouble or commotion.
Unauthorised affected entry of a ship or vessel.
Sine die (Latin)
Without fixed day.
Male homosexual intercourse, construed as act of gross indecency.
Theft accompanied with violence.
Procedure in the criminal courts in which a person is charged on
indictment, and the trial is heard before a judge and a jury of
Statutory Offences (examples)
- Contravention of Concealment of Birth (Scotland) Act 1809
Taking unlawful steps to conceal birth
- Contravention of Explosive Substances Act 1883
Unauthorised usage of explosive substances
- Contravention of Road Traffic Act, 1930
- Contravention of 1 Vict., c. 36 (Post Office Act)
Offences against the Royal Mail or stealing letters
- Contravention of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906
Offences relating to dishonesty
Subornation of perjury
Inducing another to commit perjury.
Procedure in the criminal courts in which a trial is heard before
a judge sitting alone. Courts of summary jurisdiction deal with
less serious offences.
Dishonest appropriation of property without the owner’s consent, with intent to deprive them of its use, either temporarily or permanently:
- Theft by opening lockfast places
- Theft by housebreaking
- Attempted theft
- Theft of a motor vehicle
The making of oral or written threats.
The hearing of a case in criminal proceedings.
Uttering (see Forgery)
The judgement given, after proceedings in a criminal court have
reached final conclusion.
A person who, on oath or solemn affirmation, gives evidence in an
Wilful fire-raising (also: Fire-raising; Culpable and reckless
Deliberate or reckless burning of anothers property. The gravity
depends upon whether the act was done recklessly or wilfully.
Useful reference works
J. A. Beaton, 'Scots law terms and expressions' (Edinburgh) 1982
Clive, Watt and McKain, 'Scots law for journalists' (Edinburgh)
Gloag and Henderson, 'Introduction to the law of Scotland' (9th
edition), (Edinburgh) 1987
Her Majestys Stationery Office, 'The legal system of Scotland'
Law Society of Scotland, Glossary of Scottish and European Union
legal terms and Latin phrases (2nd edition) (Edinburgh) 2003
Stephen R O'Rourke, 'Glossary of legal terms' (4th edition) (Edinburgh)
Albert V. Sheehan, 'Criminal procedure: Scottish criminal law and
practice series' (Edinburgh) 1990
George Watson, ‘Bell’s Dictionary and Digest of the Law of Scotland’ (seventh edition) (Edinburgh) 1890
National Archives of Scotland
Crown copyright 2006