Law and order

Laws are created by parliament; they are designed to keep us safe and to stop people doing things that are wrong and would harm other people or the environment.

When someone breaks the law it is called a crime.

Here are some examples of crimes:

  • Killing someone (murder)
  • Stealing things (theft)
  • Breaking other people's property
  • Hurting people (assault)
  • Bullying someone because of their race, religion, sexuality, or disability (hate crime)

Can you think of any other crimes?

police

When someone sees a crime being committed or is the victim of a crime they can report it to the police.

The police investigate the crime. They talk to the victim and witnesses. They collect evidence and they talk to the people they think might have done the crime (suspects).

When the police think they have enough evidence to prove who did the crime they talk to the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor works for the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Prosecutor looks at the evidence the police have collected and thinks about:

  1. If there is enough evidence to prove that the suspect did the crime. There needs to be enough evidence for a court to be likely to find the suspect guilty of the crime.
  2. The wider issues to do with the case, this is called Public Interest. For example if the crime involved someone being hurt it is very important for it to go to court. Whereas if the crime was minor and the person who did it made a genuine mistake it is less important for it to go to court.

Can you think of things that would make the crime more serious or less serious?

If the crime is serious but there is not enough evidence to prove it, the Prosecutor may ask the police to find more evidence.

If there is enough evidence and it is in the Public Interest to prosecute the case, the Prosecutor will decide to charge the suspect with a crime. The suspect is now called a defendant.

removing graffiti

If the defendant admits to doing the crime and the crime is not serious, the Prosecutor and the police may decide to issue an Out-of-Court disposal. This can be a fine, a caution or some unpaid work to put things right (like removing graffiti).

If the crime is serious or the defendant says they didn't do it (pleads not guilty) the case must go to court.

All cases are heard first in a Magistrates' Court. If they are serious the Magistrates' Court will send the case to the Crown Court for trial.

The Prosecutor tells the court about the crime and the evidence. They ask witnesses to tell the court what happened to them.

The defendant has a lawyer to speak for him in court. The Defence Lawyer also asks the witnesses questions.

The Jury in a Crown Court or Magistrates in a Magistrates' Court listen to the evidence and decide if the defendant is guilty (did the crime) or not.

If they find the defendant guilty then the Judge or Magistrates decide about the sentence (punishment).

What happens when you are a witness in court?

If you saw, heard, or know something about a crime you are a witness.

The police investigating the crime will talk to you about what happened.

They will ask you to make a statement.

What is a Statement?

statement

A witness statement is your written or video recorded account of what happened to you. A police officer will ask you questions and write down what you have said. You will be asked to read it and sign it with your name. When you sign a witness statement you are saying that you agree the statement is a true account of your experience. Your witness statement may be used as evidence in court.

Sometimes witness statements are recorded on DVD or video. Whichever way you make your statement you will be able to see it or read it again before you give evidence in court.

Witness Care

witness care officer

Each witness has a Witness Care Officer. The Witness Care Officer helps you throughout the court case.

Witness Care Officers work out if you need special help in court. They also find out if you need other help such as transport, language translation and if you are scared of the defendant.

Special Help in Court

Special help (called Special Measures) can help people under the age of 17, people who are scared, elderly or disabled, and people who have problems communicating, give the best evidence they can.

They are things like:

  • Using a video of their evidence in court
  • Answering questions using a live video link from another room in the court
  • Clearing the court of people who do not need to be there
  • Screens to prevent a witness having to see the defendant
  • Someone to help explain the questions or answers if necessary

Young people and children are looked after by a special witness supporter in court.

The Witness Care Officer will arrange for you to see the courtroom before the trial. They also try to arrange for young people and children to meet the Judge or Magistrates before the trial.

What happens when you give evidence?

Giving evidence by video link

video link

If you are giving evidence via a "live link" you will be taken to the live link room. Sometimes it is possible to give evidence from another building. When you use the live link you sit in a room with a TV, a camera and a supporter from the court. You can see the Judge and the Prosecutor, but not the defendants. Everyone in the courtroom will be able to see you answer the questions.

If you have made a statement on video this will be shown to the court before you are asked questions.

Giving evidence in court

witness

If you are going into the court you will be shown to the witness box. The witness box may have screens so you don't have to look at the defendants.

You should stand up, but if you find standing difficult, you can ask the Magistrate or the Judge if you can sit down.

You will be asked to take the oath. This means you have to swear to tell the truth on the holy book of your religion. If you prefer, you can "affirm", that is, promise to tell the truth.

If you are a witness for the prosecution the Prosecutor will ask you questions first, then the defence will ask you questions.

You may also be asked questions by a Magistrate, the Clerk or the Judge. In a Crown Court the Jury can write down questions for the Judge to read out.

Once you have given your evidence, the court will tell you that you may leave the witness box. You may be told that you are released, this means that you can leave.

The Witness Care Officer will tell you the result of the case.

Glossary

Charge
chargeA charge is made when the Crown Prosecution Service say that they think a person has done a crime and should go to court. The court will decide if there is enough evidence to show that the person did do the crime.
Crown Court
Crown CourtThe Crown Court listens to cases against people who are accused of very serious crimes like murder or rape.
Defence Lawyer
defence lawyerDefence Lawyers are people trained in the law who defend the person accused of the crime in court.
Defendant
defendantA defendant is a person accused of a crime.
Evidence
evidenceEvidence is information that makes it clear that something happened.
Guilty
guiltyWhen you plead guilty you tell the court you did the crime. Sometimes people tell the court that they did the crime.
Judge
judgeThe Judge is the head of the court who decides about things to do with the law.
 
In some courts the Judge decides if the defendant did the crime.
 
In other courts the Jury tell the Judge if they think the defendant did the crime.
 
The Judge makes sure the trial is fair, tells the jury about the law and decides the sentence.
Jury
juryA Jury is a group of 12 men and women who listen to a trial at the Crown Court and decide if the defendant did the crime or not.
Magistrates
magistratesMagistrates are trained volunteers who deal with about 95% of the criminal cases in England and Wales. Magistrates make decisions in Magistrates' Courts. They usually work in twos or threes (called a bench). They have a legal adviser to help them with the law.
Parliament
parliamentParliament makes laws and is responsible for law and order.
Prosecutor
prosecutorProsecutors are lawyers who represent the people. Prosecutors speak in court to accuse a person of a crime.
 
They show the court the evidence they have found.
 
They do this to protect the public.
Public Interest
public interestPublic Interest are things that matter to everyone.
 
When Prosecutors think about the Public Interest they think about the things for and against a prosecution.
 
Some things make Prosecution more likely, things like: bad crime, using a weapon, hurting someone.
Sentence
sentenceMagistrates and Judges decide what sentence to give people found guilty of a crime. A sentence is a punishment but it also tries to:
 
Reduce crime
 
Make things better - restorative justice
 
Protect the public
 
Help the defendant understand what they have done and feel sorry
 
Stop the defendant doing the crime again
Statement
statementYou make a statement by writing down or recording what you saw, or what happened to you.
Victim
victimThe victim is the person the crime was done to.
Witness
witnessA witness is a person who sees the crime being done, or sees or knows something that shows who did it.
Witness Care Officer
witness care officerA Witness Care Officer is someone who looks after witnesses during a court case.