First time or petty criminals are to be dealt with more rapidly under plans unveiled by the justice minister.
Cathy Jamieson unveiled the proposals
Sheriff courts and district courts deal with 96% of all crimes but Cathy Jamieson thinks they are too slow.
The Scottish Executive's new policy paper also gives more powers to cut the number of offenders coming to court.
Procurators fiscal could order non-persistent offenders who admit a minor offence to pay compensation of up to £5,000 to their victims.
Fiscals will also be able to impose fines of £500.
The policy paper "Smarter Justice, Safer Communities" proposes allowing fiscals to impose "fine on time" community reparation orders, where offenders make good damage they have done.
Sheriffs will see their sentencing powers for summary (non-jury) offences raised from six months to one year.
The minister stopped short of abolishing lay magistrates in district courts, despite a committee recommendation to scrap them.
She wants to maintain the local link provided by justices of the peace.
The new measures include:
- Phased unification of Scotland's 49 sheriff and 58 working district courts;
- Piloting a "fine on time" community reparation scheme as an alternative to prosecution;
- Increasing the maximum levels of fiscal fines to £500;
- Increasing the sentencing powers of sheriffs in the summary court from six months to one year in custody.
Ms Jamieson said: "A quick, effective response at this stage offers our best opportunity to stop a first time offender becoming a persistent offender.
"A chance to stop a life of crime in its tracks. A chance we must now seize."
Scottish National Party justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill cautioned the Scottish Executive that they must provide clear national guidelines to support the changes.
The measures aim to streamline the operations of sheriff courts
He said: "While the structural changes within the system are overdue, the judiciary and fiscals now need time to bed this new system in without the hindrance of political tinkering and press stunts by the executive."
Scots Tory justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie gave the administrative reforms broad backing but condemned the extension of fiscal fines.
She said it would give "only the appearance of swifter justice" when really it was "not justice" at all.
"Far too many people will literally be able to pay to wipe the slate clean and avoid a criminal record. This is unfair to victims," Ms Goldie said.