What happens when you are a victim or witness?

Being a victim or a witness to a crime is not easy; however with your help, we work hard to bring offenders to justice. Throughout the justice process you will receive support and be treated with dignity.

From reporting the crime to passing sentence, the various criminal justice agencies will explain to you what will happen, the role of each agency (CPS, Police, Courts) and what you can expect from them.

Victims' Right to Review (VRR)

The CPS has a scheme called the Victims' Right to Review, which makes it easier for victims to seek a review of a CPS decision not to bring any charges or to stop all court proceedings.

If you are a victim seeking to exercise your right to request a review, please visit the Victims' Right to Review page

Please note that VRR applies only in relation to qualifying decisions made on or after the 5 June 2013.

Anonymity

As a matter of law, victims of rape and serious sexual offences are automatically entitled to lifelong anonymity in the media, even if their name is given in court. Witnesses' addresses are not disclosed to defendants and will not, as a rule, be mentioned in the court room.

Victims and witnesses

Championing justice and defending the rights of victims, fairly, firmly and effectively is at the heart of what we do. Without the help of victims and witnesses, it can be difficult for us to achieve a successful prosecution and bring an offender to justice. 

Police Witness Care Units (WCUs)

Witness Care Units (WCUs) were set up in 2005 as a joint venture by the police and the CPS to support victims and witnesses through the court process. In 2011, the WCUs were placed solely under police control, but the CPS continues to work closely with them.

Witness Care Officers (WCOs) act as the single point of contact for victims and witnesses. Once someone is charged with an offence, every victim and witness is allocated a WCO to support and guide them through the court process.

The WCO will address each victim's and witnesses' specific needs, arranging where appropriate, transport, childcare and expenses. They will provide updates about their case and explain the court processes in a way that is easily understood.

We appreciate that the court process can be daunting, especially if you've never encountered the criminal justice system before. Your first point of contact for all enquiries from the start to the very end of your case should be directed to your appointed WCO

CPS Victim Liaison Units (VLUs)

Victim Liaison Units (VLUs) provide a dedicated professional service to victims (only) and ensure that they receive a high quality, timely, effective and empathetic communication should we decide to stop a case or substantially alter a charge.

The definition of 'substantially alter' is a change in charge which, in the opinion of the crown prosecutor, alters the overall seriousness of the case and which is likely to affect the sentence the court would impose (if the defendant were convicted of all charges). In determining seriousness, crown prosecutors will take into account the maximum penalty permissible by law.

CPS duties in this respect are outlined in Chapter 2, Part B of the revised Code of Practice for the Victims of Crime (also known as the Victims’ Code). A copy of the Code can be viewed and downloaded from the Ministry of Justice website.

Vulnerable and Intimidated Victims and Witnesses

There are a variety of things (called special measures) that a court can do to make a victim or witness feel more comfortable, to help them give the best possible evidence.

We can apply for special measures and if these are granted by the Judge, they might comprise of:

  • giving evidence from behind a screen in court
  • giving evidence over a live TV link, or
  • having a video recorded interview with the police played in court as their evidence

If children are involved, then Barristers and Judges can remove their wigs and gowns.

An independent intermediary can also sit with the victim or witness to assist them with the process, if they have particular needs, such as communication difficulties.

Victim and witnesses will also have the opportunity to use particular services offered by the police Witness Care Units (for example, a court familiarisation visit).

In cases involving domestic and/or sexual violence, the court or the Witness Care Unit can engage the services of an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) or Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA). The role of these advisors is to assist and provide advice and support to victims throughout the prosecution process.

You can find further information on Special Measures elsewhere on the CPS website.