District court (Scotland)

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A district court was the least authoritative type of criminal court in Scotland. The court operated under summary procedure and dealt primarily with minor criminal offences. District Courts have been replaced with justice of the peace courts.


District courts were introduced in 1975, as part of the local government reorganisation process as a replacement for Burgh Police Courts and sat in each local authority area under summary procedure only. The courts were each run by the local authority within whose jurisdiction it operated. Each court comprised one or more Justices of the Peace — lay magistrates appointed by Ministers — who sat singly or in threes; a qualified legal assessor acted as clerk of court. [1]


They handled many cases of breach of the peace, minor assaults, petty theft, and offences under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. However, they could handle any offence that could competently be dealt with under summary procedure. Their sentencing powers were limited to a fine in excess of £2,500 or imprisonment of up to 60 days. In practice, most offences were dealt with by a fine.[2]

Stipendary magistrates in Glasgow

In Glasgow, the volume of business required the employment of four solicitors as "stipendiary magistrates" who sit in place of the lay Justices. The Stipendiary Magistrates' court remains under the new JP court system, and has (and had) the same sentencing power as the summary Sheriff Court.[3]

Reform and abolition

The Scottish Government has now unified the management of the Sheriff and District courts in Scotland, but retained lay Justices. This was done by the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007, which enabled the Scottish Ministers to replace District Courts by "Justice of the Peace Courts".[4]

The new Justice of the Peace Courts are managed by the Scottish Court Service. Responsibility for the Courts was transferred from the local authorities in a rolling programme of court unification that concluded in February 2010. The District Courts were replaced by Justice of the Peace Courts as follows:

  • Sheriffdom of Lothian and Borders, 10 March 2008 [5]
  • Sheriffdom of Grampian, Highlands and Islands, 2 June 2008 [6]
  • Sheriffdom of Glasgow and Strathkelvin, 8 December 2008 [7]
  • Sheriffdom of Tayside, Central and Fife, 23 February 2009 [8]
  • Sheriffdom of North Strathclyde, 14 December 2009 [9]
  • Sheriffdom of South Strathclyde, Dumfries & Galloway, 22 February 2010 [10]


  1. Review of the Summary Justice System: "The Summary Justice Review Committee: Report to Ministers". Scottish Government. Retrieved 2010-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. A history of Justices of the Peace: "District Court and JP Court: Past, present and future" (PDF). Scottish Justices Association. Retrieved 2010-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The role, function and operation of District Courts within the court hierarchy in Scotland: "About District Courts". City of Glasgow Council. Retrieved 2007-12-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Scottish Ministers may by order establish courts of summary criminal jurisdiction to be known as justice of the peace courts." "Section 59(1) of the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (asp 6)". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 2007-11-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Circular JD/1/2008
  6. Circular JD/5/2008
  7. Circular JD/9/2008
  8. Circular JD/2/2009
  9. The Justice of the Peace Courts (Sheriffdom of North Strathclyde) etc. Order 2009 SSI 2009/331
  10. The Justice of the Peace Courts (Sheriffdom of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway) etc. Order 2009 SSI 2009/332