If you have been the victim of a crime and you have reported it to the police then you may be required to attend court.
Not all cases will go to court, in order for there to be a court process there needs to be an identified offender. If the offender is found and charged there will be a court process.
Before a trial
You will be contacted by the Victim and Witness Coordinator once the defendant has been charged. The coordinator will introduce themselves as your point of contact for the duration of the court proceedings.
The coordinator will discuss the court process with you and help with practical things, such as:
- Obtaining your availability to attend court
- Arranging travel and accommodation
- Claiming expenses
- Arrange for you to visit the Court in advance to see how things work
- Be supported at Court on the day of the trial
- Discuss whether you require any additional support such as an interpreter or support with a disability
- Whether you require special measures such as giving your evidence behind a screen
Making a Victim Personal Statement
If you are a victim of crime you are entitled to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS).
This is your chance to say how you feel about the crime and the effect it has had on you and your family. This can include how the crime has affected you financially, physically or emotionally.
Generally, Victim Personal Statements are read on your behalf by the Prosecutor, Judge or Magistrate when the court is deciding about the right sentence for the defendant. However, you can ask to read the statement out yourself if you would prefer.
Businesses who are victims of crime can also make a Business Impact Statement (BIS).
If you would like to make a VPS or BIS then please speak to either the Police Officer dealing with your case or your Victim and Witness Care Coordinator.
During a trial
If the defendant has pleaded not guilty then the case will proceed to a trial where all the evidence can be heard before a decision is made. Attending a trial may be a daunting process but you will be supported throughout by a Victim and Witness Care coordinator. The process differs dependant on the type of court hearing the trial.
A magistrate (also known as a ‘justice of the peace’) is someone who lives in the local community, and has been trained to decide on cases heard in the magistrates' court. Magistrates are volunteers. In the magistrates’ court, there are normally three magistrates who are supported by a legally trained adviser.
Sometimes cases are tried by one magistrate, who is a lawyer. They are called a district judge. Magistrates’ courts tend to be less formal places than the Crown Court — for example, magistrates do not wear the white wigs that lawyers and judges wear in the Crown Court.
The judge is responsible for overseeing the hearing, ruling on points of law and ensuring that the defendant gets a fair trial. Where the defendant is found ‘guilty’ or pleads ‘guilty’, the judge will pass a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crime and takes into account the defendant’s personal circumstances, and whether they have previously been convicted of similar offences.
Whilst a judge is there to impose a sentence they are not there to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. This is down to a jury. There are 12 members of the public on a jury. After listening to all the evidence during the trial in the Crown Court, and any direction that the judge may give them, they decide whether the defendant is guilty.
When all the jurors agree that a defendant is guilty or innocent, it is known as a unanimous verdict. If they can’t all agree, they may be asked by the judge to pass a majority verdict where at least 10 of them agree. There are occasions where a jury fail to reach a verdict and this is known as a hung jury. This is rare but does occasionally happen. This would require a re-trial.
Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutes most cases in the criminal courts. The CPS prosecutes cases on behalf of the Crown, and while it will listen to the views of victims, it makes its decision about prosecuting based on the admissible evidence that’s available, and public interest factors. It is guided in its decision making by the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
The CPS employs lawyers who are called Crown Prosecutors or Crown Advocates. They also employ associate prosecutors who are not lawyers, but who are trained to present simple cases in the magistrate’s court. In the crown court, the CPS may prosecute the case through one of its Crown Advocates, or instruct a local barrister to prosecute on its behalf.
The defendant is entitled to be represented within criminal proceeds. The defence is the lawyer who has been instructed by the defendant. The defence are there to take instructions from the defendant and provide them with legal advice. The defence lawyer will evaluate all the evidence and advise on the appropriate defence.
All cases will have witnesses. These could be victims directly or indirectly affected, members of the public who witnessed the offence or expert witnesses, such as forensic scientists or forensic psychologists.
Witnesses will usually have made a statement within the proceedings and may be required to attend court to be cross examined on their evidence.
If you are a witness, excluding expert witnesses, then The Witness Charter sets out the standards of support you can expect to receive if you witness a crime or incident in England and Wales. The Charter does not apply to expert witnesses. The Witness Charter has been aligned with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime to ensure that witnesses are supported throughout the criminal justice process.
The Witness Charter covers and raises awareness of the potential use of Special Measures. Special Measures are designed to provide additional support to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to reduce the stress and trauma of giving evidence and to help them give their best evidence.
As with the Victims Code there are some key standards of care for witnesses they are:
- Be treated with dignity and respect at all times by each of the criminal justice agencies you have contact with
- Assessment of your needs. You can expect an initial assessment of your needs and then a full assessment of your needs if you are required to give evidence
- Applications for Special Measures should be made on your behalf to the court in good time and, if approved, should be available when you give your evidence
- Measures will be taken in court to ensure it is a safe environment for all and ensure that prosecution witnesses, defence witnesses and their family and friends wait in separate areas
- Access to the court-based Witness Service who can facilitate a visit to the court prior to the trial
- You can make a complaint if you are unhappy about the level of service received from any of the criminal justice agency referred to in the Charter
Attending a trial
The Victim and Witness Care Coordinator will have discussed the court process with you however you may wish to access the court based Witness Service for additional support. They can arrange for you to visit the court prior to the trial to alleviate any anxieties.
To minimise any anxiety ensure you have all the information you require such as the court address and any letters with the time and details on. As court times are approximate, and court is a very busy place, there is often a lot of waiting around so take a book or magazine with you.
You may choose to take a friend or family member with you as support and that is acceptable however do try to keep the amount of people you take to a minimum. It is not advised to take young children.
When you arrive at court you need to make yourself known to the court usher who will point you in the right direction for the trial you are attending. The Prosecutor should come and introduce themselves to you and explain the process. They are unable to discuss any evidence with you.
As there is often a large time gap between you giving your statement and attending court you will have an opportunity on the day to go through your statement and refresh your memory before you need to give your evidence.
Once you have given your evidence you may be able to leave. You should not leave the court until you have been advised by the court that it is ok to do so. If you are unsure speak to a member of court staff.
When attending court you may be entitled to claim expenses and you will be provided with a claim form on the day of the trial. Make sure you keep all receipts that you will be claiming for such as travel, parking and petrol receipts. Please be aware your expenses will not be paid on the day and often take a few weeks for payment to be received.
After a trial
If a defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty by the court or jury, the magistrates or a judge will decide on the most appropriate sentence to reflect the crime. The sentencing process is quite complicated, and the magistrates/judge has to follow sentencing guidelines. These guidelines help to ensure that there is a consistent approach to sentencing for similar offences across all courts.
There is sometimes a delay in between the defendant pleading guilty or being found guilty and the sentencing. This is often due to the court requiring further information before passing sentence.
The Victim and Witness Care Coordinator will update you with the sentencing outcome. If you wish to attend sentencing please ensure that the Coordinator is made aware.
A person convicted by the Crown Court can appeal to the Court of Appeal (criminal division) against their conviction or the sentence. If their initial appeals are rejected, they can apply for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Someone convicted by a magistrates’ court or youth court can appeal against the conviction (provided they did not plead guilty) or sentence to the Crown Court. Their appeal will usually be heard by a judge sitting with two magistrates.
Support at Court
Support is available from the Court Based Witness Service. The service is a free service provided by Citizens Advice and is available in all courts in England and Wales. The Witness Service can provide support to you prior to the trial commencing and on the day of the trial. This could include their outreach service or a pre-trial visit to the court for you to familiarise yourself and find out what happens prior to the trial starting.
Right to Review - Police
From 1st April 2015 if you have been a victim of crime and a decision has been taken not to prosecute you have the right to request a review of that decision. You can request a review if the Police have:
- Identified and interviewed under caution a suspect about the offence, and decided not to take the suspect to court, or not to refer the case to the CPS for a charging decision
You can’t request a review if:
- The decision was pre 1st April 2015
- The suspect was issued with an out of court disposal
- No suspect has been identified and interviewed
You can request a review within three months of the decision not to prosecute.
Right to Review - Crown Prosecution Service
From June 2013 if you have been a victim of crime and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute or to terminate proceedings you have a right to request a review of that decision.
You can request a review if the CPS have made a decision:
- Not to charge
- To discontinue (or withdraw in the Magistrates’ Court) all charges thereby ending all proceedings
- To offer no evidence in all proceedings
- To leave all charges in the proceedings to “lie on file” (this is the term used in circumstances where the CPS makes a decision not to proceed and requests that the charges are allowed to “lie on file” marked not to be proceeded with without the leave of the Court or Court of Appeal
To request a review you will need to contact CPS within five working days from the date of communication of the decision in order to ensure a prompt review. Requests will be considered up to three months after the communication of the decision.
If you wish to exercise your right for review please contact CPS on East of England contact point for Victims' Right to Review enquiries:
Telephone: 01603 693136
Following the national guidance of living with Covid-19, safety measures have been relaxed across court estate.
For all updated information regarding safety measures within court buildings please check the HMCTS website, linked above.