Define: Advocate-Depute

Quick Summary of Advocate-Depute

An advocate-depute in Scots law is an advocate appointed by the Lord Advocate to prosecute criminal cases on their behalf. For instance, when a serious crime occurs in Scotland, the Lord Advocate may designate an advocate-depute to lead the prosecution. This individual collaborates closely with the police and other legal professionals to construct a case against the accused. Essentially, an advocate-depute is a government lawyer in Scotland responsible for prosecuting criminal cases under the authority of the Lord Advocate, who serves as the chief legal officer. Their role involves gathering evidence, working with law enforcement, and presenting the case in court to argue for the accused’s guilt.

What is the dictionary definition of Advocate-Depute?
Dictionary Definition of Advocate-Depute

Advocate-Depute: An attorney selected by the Lord Advocate to assist in the prosecution of criminal cases in Scotland.

Full Definition Of Advocate-Depute

An Advocate-Depute is a senior prosecutor in Scotland appointed by the Lord Advocate who plays a critical role in the administration of criminal justice. Advocates-Depute are responsible for prosecuting serious criminal cases in the High Court of Justiciary and occasionally in the Sheriff Court, representing the Crown in appeals, and providing legal advice to the police and other public bodies. The position is esteemed within the Scottish legal system, requiring significant legal expertise, prosecutorial experience, and a strong commitment to public service.

Historical Background

The role of advocate-depute is rooted in the development of the Scottish legal system. The title “Advocate-Depute” can be traced back to the 18th century, although the origins of public prosecution in Scotland date even earlier. Historically, private individuals were responsible for prosecuting crimes, but this evolved into a more formal system where the Crown took on the responsibility of prosecution.

The office of the Lord Advocate, the chief legal officer of the Scottish Government and the Crown in Scotland was established in the 15th century. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) oversees Scotland’s public prosecutions and supports the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate appoints Advocates-Depute to carry out high-level prosecutorial duties on behalf of the Crown.

Appointment and Qualifications

Appointment Process

The Lord Advocate appoints advocates-deputes, typically from the ranks of seasoned attorneys or solicitors with extensive experience in criminal law. The appointment process is rigorous, reflecting the high level of responsibility and expertise required for the role. Candidates are usually recommended by senior figures within the legal community and must demonstrate outstanding legal acumen, advocacy skills, and a commitment to justice.


To be eligible for appointment as an Advocate-Depute, a candidate must possess:

  • Legal Qualification: A qualified advocate (member of the Faculty of Advocates) or solicitor with rights of audience in the High Court.
  • Experience: Extensive experience in criminal law, with a strong track record of prosecuting serious criminal cases.
  • Skills: exceptional advocacy skills, including presenting complex legal arguments and evidence persuasively.
  • Integrity: High ethical standards and a commitment to upholding the principles of justice and fairness.

Roles and Responsibilities

Advocates-depute play a multifaceted role within the Scottish legal system, encompassing prosecution, legal advice, and appeals representation. Their responsibilities are diverse and demanding, requiring a deep understanding of criminal law and procedure.

Prosecution of Serious Crimes

One of the primary responsibilities of an Advocate-deputy is to prosecute serious criminal cases in the High Court of Justice. These cases often involve complex legal issues and serious offences such as murder, rape, serious assault, and major financial crimes. The Advocate-Depute leads the prosecution team, presenting evidence, examining and cross-examining witnesses, and making legal arguments to ensure justice is served.

Representation in Appeals

Advocates-Depute also represent the Crown in criminal appeals before the High Court of Justice and the UK Supreme Court. This involves preparing and presenting arguments on points of law, seeking to uphold convictions or challenging decisions where appropriate. Their role in appeals is crucial in shaping criminal law’s development and ensuring legal precedents’ consistency and fairness.

Legal Advice

In addition to their courtroom duties, Advocates-deputies provide legal advice to the police, government departments, and other public bodies on matters related to criminal law. This advisory role is essential for ensuring that investigations and prosecutions are conducted in accordance with the law and that individuals’ rights are protected.

Supervision and Training

Senior Advocates-Depute often have supervisory and training responsibilities, mentoring junior prosecutors and ensuring the high standards of the prosecution service are maintained. They play a key role in developing the skills and expertise of the next generation of legal professionals within COPFS.

Key Cases and Contributions

Advocates-Depute have been involved in numerous high-profile and landmark cases that have shaped Scottish criminal law and had significant societal impacts. Their contributions to the legal system are manifold, demonstrating the importance of their role.

Landmark Cases

  • The Lockerbie Bombing Trial (2000–2001): Advocates-Depute played a pivotal role in prosecuting the case against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. The trial, held at a specially constituted Scottish court in the Netherlands, was one of the most complex and high-profile cases in Scottish legal history.
  • The World’s End Murders (2007): The prosecution of Angus Sinclair for the murders of two young women in 1977, known as the World’s End Murders, highlighted the perseverance and dedication of Advocates-Depute. Despite initial setbacks, Sinclair was eventually convicted in 2014, demonstrating the long-term commitment of the prosecution service to seeking justice.
  • The Moira Jones Case (2008): The prosecution of Slovakian national Marek Harcar for the brutal rape and murder of Moira Jones in Glasgow was another high-profile case handled by an Advocate-Depute. The successful conviction underscored the effectiveness of the Scottish prosecution system in dealing with serious and violent crimes.

Contributions to Legal Development

Advocates-Depute contribute significantly to the development of Scottish criminal law through their involvement in appeals and legal reforms. Presenting cases before appellate courts helps to clarify and refine legal principles, ensuring that the law evolves to meet contemporary challenges.

Comparative Analysis

The role of an Advocate-Depute in Scotland can be compared to similar prosecutorial roles in other legal systems, highlighting unique features and common principles.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, Crown Prosecutors perform a role similar to that of Advocates-Depute. They are responsible for prosecuting serious criminal cases on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). While there are similarities in their prosecutorial functions, the structure and appointment processes differ. Crown Prosecutors are part of a larger, more centralized CPS, whereas Advocates-Depute are appointed directly by the Lord Advocate and have a distinct, prestigious position within the Scottish legal system.

United States

In the United States, the role of federal and state prosecutors, such as U.S. attorneys and district attorneys, can be seen as analogous to that of advocates-deputies. These prosecutors handle serious criminal cases and appeals, providing legal advice to law enforcement and government agencies. However, the U.S. system is more decentralised, with prosecutors being elected or appointed at various levels of government, reflecting a different approach to public prosecution.


Canadian Crown Attorneys or Crown Counsel perform similar functions to Advocates-Depute, prosecuting serious crimes and representing the Crown in appeals. Like Scotland’s, the Canadian system emphasises the independence and impartiality of prosecutors, ensuring that they act in the public interest and uphold the rule of law.

Challenges and Future Directions

The role of an advocate-deputy is not without challenges. The increasing complexity of criminal cases, technological advances, and evolving societal expectations place significant demands on prosecutors. Advocate-Depute must continuously update their knowledge and skills to address these challenges effectively.

Technological Advancements

The rise of cybercrime and digital evidence presents new challenges for advocacy deputies. Prosecutors must be adept at understanding and presenting complex technical evidence in court, requiring ongoing training and collaboration with technical experts.

Evolving Legal Standards

Changes in legal standards and human rights considerations also impact Advocates-deputies’ work. Ensuring compliance with evolving legal frameworks, such as those related to privacy and data protection, is essential for maintaining public trust and upholding the principles of justice.

Public Expectations

Public expectations of transparency, accountability, and fairness in the criminal justice system are higher than ever. Advocates-Deputy must navigate these expectations while ensuring prosecutions are conducted fairly and impartially. Engaging with the public and maintaining open communication can help build trust and confidence in the legal system.


Advocates-Depute play a vital role in the Scottish legal system, prosecuting serious criminal cases, representing the Crown in appeals, and providing essential legal advice. Their expertise, dedication, and commitment to justice ensure that the public interest is served and that the rule of law is upheld. This role’s historical development and comparative analysis highlight its unique features and significant contributions to criminal justice.

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, Advocates-deputies must adapt to new challenges and expectations, maintaining their position as pillars of the Scottish prosecution service. Their work impacts individual cases and shapes the broader development of criminal law, ensuring that justice is administered fairly and effectively for all.

Advocate-Depute FAQ'S

An Advocate-Depute is a legal professional who represents the Crown in criminal cases in Scotland. They are responsible for presenting the case against the accused and ensuring that justice is served.

Advocate-Deputes are appointed by the Lord Advocate, who is the head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland. The appointment is made based on the individual’s qualifications, experience, and suitability for the role.

To become an Advocate-Depute, one must be a qualified advocate or solicitor with several years of experience in criminal law. They must also possess excellent advocacy skills and a thorough understanding of the Scottish legal system.

No, an Advocate-Depute represents the Crown and acts as a prosecutor in criminal cases. They are responsible for presenting evidence against the accused and arguing for their conviction.

In court, an Advocate-Depute presents the case on behalf of the Crown, examines witnesses, cross-examines the defence witnesses, and makes legal arguments to support the prosecution’s case. They work closely with the police and other investigative agencies to gather evidence.

An Advocate-Depute has the authority to withdraw or drop charges against an accused if new evidence emerges or if it is determined that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with the case. However, this decision is usually made in consultation with the Lord Advocate.

Advocate-Deputes represent the prosecution and work on behalf of the Crown, while defence lawyers represent the accused. Advocate-Deputes aim to secure a conviction, while defence lawyers aim to protect the rights and interests of their clients.

Yes, an Advocate-Depute can appeal a court’s decision if they believe there was an error in law or if they consider the sentence imposed to be unduly lenient. Appeals are usually made to the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland.

No, Advocate-Deputes primarily handle criminal cases. Civil cases, which involve disputes between individuals or organisations, are usually handled by solicitors and advocates who specialize in civil law.

If you need to contact an Advocate-Depute, you can reach out to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland. They will be able to provide you with the necessary contact information based on your specific requirements.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th June 2024.

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