Frequently asked questions

Many victims and witnesses have not encountered the criminal justice system before so the prosecution process and the way courts work are unfamiliar and going to court can seem daunting. Below are some frequently asked questions to help you understand how the process works and how we can help you give your evidence as best you can.
If I give a witness statement will I have to go to court?

The majority of cases are dealt with without the need for witnesses to give evidence in court. If a defendant pleads guilty, a trial is not needed. In some cases where they do not plead guilty the defence may accept the written evidence of witnesses which means they will not be required to appear in court. However there will still be cases in which the evidence of witnesses is vital to the prosecution case and they will be called to give this evidence in court.

How will I know if I have to go to court?

The police Witness Care Unit will contact you to determine dates that are convenient for you to attend court. They will then advise you of the date of the hearing and which court you need to attend.

Why isn't the crime i reported being prosecuted?

The Code for Crown Prosecutors provides guidance to CPS prosecutors on the general principles they should apply when making decisions about prosecutions.

Is there enough evidence against the defendant?

When deciding whether there is enough evidence to charge, Crown Prosecutors must consider whether evidence can be used in court and is reliable and credible. Crown Prosecutors must be satisfied there is enough evidence to provide a "realistic prospect of conviction" against each defendant.

Is it in the public interest for the CPS to bring the case to court?

A prosecution will usually take place unless the prosecutor is sure that the public interest factors tending against prosecution outweigh those tending in favour.

If you are unhappy with one of our decisions not to prosecute you can ask to have this reviewed under the Victim's Right to Review (VRR) scheme - details can be found on the London Victims and witnesses homepage.

Which court will my case be at?

The court you are asked to attend depends upon what crime was committed. Criminal cases are divided into the following three types of offence, however every criminal case begins in the magistrates' court:

  • Summary only offences: these are less serious cases and are heard in the magistrates' courts. This type of offence includes minor motoring offences and disorderly behaviour.
  • Either way offences: these are more serious cases and can be heard in either the magistrates' court or before a judge and jury in the Crown Court. These offences include all cases of theft and some categories of assault. Usually, the magistrates decide whether the case should be heard in the Crown Court. Sometimes the defendant can choose to be dealt with in the Crown Court.
  • Indictable only offences: these are the most serious cases and must always be heard in the Crown Court, which has more lengthy sentencing powers. This type of offence includes murder and rape.

In the magistrates' court the case will be heard by two or three magistrates who will decide whether the defendant is guilty.  However, the magistrates may decide they do not have the appropriate powers to deal with the case and send it over to the Crown Court. Cases at the Crown Court are heard before a judge and jury. The jury, made up of 12 members of the public who after hearing the evidence decide whether the defendant is guilty. In the case of a conviction the Judge will decide on the appropriate sentence given.

What happens when I go to court?

You will be met at court by members of the Witness Service who will talk through what to expect, explain the procedures and protocols in court, and be on hand to answer any questions you may have.  You will also get the opportunity to meet the Crown Prosecution Service caseworker or Prosecutor who will be dealing with your case.

Can I read my statement before giving evidence?

Yes you can read it.  Since it will have taken some time for the case to come to court you may have forgotten some details you mentioned at the time of the incident and looking at the statement will help refresh your memory.

What happens if I take the stand?

When you give evidence you will be asked questions by the prosecutor and the defence lawyer.  You simply need to answer those questions truthfully and as fully as possible.

Speaking in court is, understandably, nerve wracking for most people.  Take your time, don't panic, try to relax and ask for clarification if you need it.  Some of the questions may be difficult but if you do not understand anything you are asked say so and ask for the lawyer to rephrase it for you.  If you need a break do not be afraid to ask for one.

Vulnerable or intimidated witnesses can make an application to the court for special measures to help them give their best evidence in court - link to CPS London special measures webpage.

What happens next? 

The magistrates or the jury will consider all the evidence put before them before reaching a decision on whether the defendant is guilty or not. If convicted, the defendant will then be sentenced by the magistrates or judge. This may happen straight away, but is more likely to be adjourned to another date to enable the Probation Service or Youth Offending Team to prepare a pre-sentence report. The Crown Prosecution Service plays no part in deciding the sentence.
There are four types of sentence available to the courts:

  • discharge
  • a fine
  • community sentence
  • imprisonment.

When magistrates or judges pass a sentence they need to consider more than simply punishing the offender.  They need to consider the impact on the victim, the background of the offender, the need to protect the public, encouraging the offender to make amends for their crime, looking at why the offender committed the crime in the first place and whether there is an appropriate form of punishment to rehabilitate the offender.

Can the CPS appeal the sentence?

No, we cannot appeal the sentence. The Attorney General is responsible for referring indictable only cases to the Court of Appeal if he believes that a sentence may be unduly lenient.  The Court of Appeal has the power to increase a sentence if it decides that it is, in fact, unduly lenient.  However if the CPS feels a sentence may be unduly lenient, the CPS will draw it to the attention of the Attorney General for his consideration.

How can I ensure the court knows how the crime has affected me as a victim?

If you are a victim of a crime you can make a victim personal statement. This will give you the opportunity to say how you have been affected by the crime. The victim personal statement is prepared in advance, usually with help from the police officer who has dealt with your case.

Will I be able to see the court before hand?

Yes. Your witness care officer will put you in touch with the witness service who will arrange a court visit for you so you can be more familiar with the court. This can be arranged in advance. The witness service volunteer or court usher will give you a tour of the court which includes the court room, witness suite, how the special measures work (if required) and the court facilities. If you have any questions at that time they will be more than happy to answer them.

What happens after I have given evidence?

Your witness care officer will update you on the result of the case. This can be up to three days after the hearing although efforts are by the witness care officer to get the results much sooner. There is no need for you to stay for the duration of the trial if you do not wish to do so. If the defendant is given 12 months or more custodial sentence for a sexual or violent offence, your witness care officer, will, with your permission, refer the case to the probation service who under their victim contact scheme will keep you updated and involved in any decisions about the defendants parole. For more information on the London Probation Service please see link below.