Scotland signals shift away from class A prosecutions

Scottish police will now be able to issue warnings for possession of class A drugs, said Scotland’s lord advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, in a statement to the Scottish Parliament. Police are already able to issue warnings for class B and C drugs, but she is now is extending the recorded police warning guidelines to include all classes of drugs, meaning that people found in possession will not automatically face prosecution.

Dorothy Bain QC: ‘Each case will be considered on its own facts and circumstances.’

Neither offering or accepting the warnings is mandatory, she stressed, and emphasised that the scheme extends to possession only, with ‘robust prosecutorial action’ continuing for supply offences. Recorded police warnings ‘do not represent decriminalisation of an offence’, she emphasised, adding that prosecutors can also refer people accused of possession offences for diversion to support services outside of the criminal justice sector. She also detailed the success of a pilot scheme launched in Inverness earlier this year, where people are referred to a mentor to provide support ‘at first point of contact with the police’.

Although the Scottish Conservatives labelled the move ‘decriminalisation by stealth’ and ‘a dangerous decision that will benefit drug dealers and make it more difficult for police officers to stop the supply of class A drugs’, it has been welcomed by parts of the Scottish media, with the Daily Record calling it a ‘massive step forward in drugs policy’. 

Last year was another record year in Scotland’s ongoing drug deaths crisis ( with provisional figures for 2021 indicating that there is unlikely to be any significant reduction (

Bain told MSPs that she recognised ‘the extent of the public health emergency we face in Scotland’ and the ability of prosecutors to play their part in addressing the crisis. ‘There is simply no one size fits all. Each case will be considered on its own facts and circumstances. Any alternative to prosecution: warnings, fines or diversion, are offers only. An accused person always has the right to reject such an offer and there will be cases where prosecution is the appropriate response in the public interest. The most appropriate response – the smartest response – in any drugs case, must be tailored to the facts and circumstances of both the alleged offence and the offender. Scotland’s police and prosecutors are using the powers available to them to both uphold the law and help tackle the drug death emergency.’

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