Victims & witnesses
Being a victim or a witness to a crime can often be difficult and you may not know very much about the criminal justice system. We will treat all victims and witnesses with respect and understanding throughout the justice process.
From reporting the crime to passing sentence we explain what happens, below, the role of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and what you can expect from us.
Giving a statement Toggle accordion
A witness statement is your written or video recorded account of what happened to you or what you saw / happened. The police 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.
You should contact the police if you remember something not already included in your original statement.
You can find further information in the Giving a witness statement to the police - what happens next? leaflet.
The investigation Toggle accordion
After a crime has been reported the police will decide whether to investigate the case. Depending on the complexity of the case, the police investigations can take some time to be completed. However, the police will keep you updated throughout their investigation.
The police may approach the CPS for early investigative advice during their investigation. This will happen in all cases involving a death, rape or other serious sexual offence but can also occur in any case where a police supervisor considers it would be of assistance in helping to determine the evidence that will be required to support a prosecution or to decide if a case can proceed to court.
The decision to take a case to court Toggle accordion
When the police think that they have completed their investigation they may pass the information to the CPS. The CPS will make the decision whether or not to prosecute in cases involving more serious offences, whilst the police are able to take this decision in cases involving more minor offences. This is set out in the Director's Guidance On Charging.
Criminal cases are divided into the following three types of offence:
Summary only offences: these are cases that can only be heard in the magistrates' courts. They include a range of offences, encompassing driving whilst over the limit, common assault, and disorderly behaviour. For the most serious offences, the magistrates’ court can impose sentences of up to 6 months imprisonment for a single offence and an unlimited fine.
“Either way” offences: these are more serious cases that can be heard in either the magistrates' court or before a judge and jury in the Crown Court depending on the seriousness of the offence. This range of offences includes all allegations of dishonesty and drugs, as well as some categories of assault. The reason that these offences can be heard in either court is because, for instance the offence of “theft” could apply equally to shoplifting of a jar of coffee, or the stealing of a work of art. The magistrates decide which court the case should be heard in. However, the defendant retains the option to “elect” to be tried in the Crown Court, even if the magistrates keep the case. Where the magistrates initially decide to keep the case, if, having heard the evidence they conclude that in fact their powers of sentencing are not sufficient, the magistrates can “commit” the defendant to the Crown Court for sentencing after conviction.
Indictable only offences: these are the most serious cases and can only be heard before a judge and jury in the Crown Court, which has more lengthy sentencing powers. This type of offence includes murder, rape, robbery and causing death by dangerous driving.
All cases will have their first hearing in the magistrates’ court, and the more serious cases will then move to the Crown Court.
In the magistrates' court the case will be heard by two or three magistrates or a district judge who will decide whether the defendant is guilty.
Trials at the Crown Court are heard before a judge and jury. The jury is 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 to give.
The CPS considers all cases in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which sets out the principles the CPS will apply when making decisions about whether or not to prosecute. The CPS does not decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence, but makes a fair, independent decision about whether the case should be considered by a criminal court. This test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors is lower than the test applied by magistrates’ or a jury, where the case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you are the victim or complainant and the police or CPS later decide not to proceed or substantially change the charge(s), you will be told the reasons why within five working days.
If you are unhappy with a CPS decision not to start, or to stop, a prosecution you may be able to ask for it to be reviewed through the Victims’ Right to Review scheme.
Victim Liaison Units Toggle accordion
CPS Victim Liaison Units (VLUs) are responsible for informing victims of decisions to stop a case or significantly change charges. They are a dedicated point of contact for victims who want further information about our decisions. The VLU can also advise victims on how they can seek a review, make a complaint or provide feedback.
Keeping you informed Toggle accordion
Once a case is started the police will pass the file on to their local Witness Care Unit (WCU). The WCU manages the care of victims and witnesses from the point of charge through to the conclusion of a case. The WCU is managed by the police, not the CPS.
The WCU will allocate you a dedicated witness care officer. Your witness care officer will act as your single point of contact and will keep you informed of the case's progress, from the point of charging the suspect, to sentencing or acquitting the defendant.
Your witness care officer will contact you if the defendant(s) have pleaded not guilty to discuss any support and assistance that you may require to attend court. This includes the need for special measures.
The WCU will:
- Let you know where and when the trial will happen
- Arrange for you to visit the court before the trial starts, so you know what to expect
- Help you get to the trial and give evidence, e.g. by assisting you to arrange child care or transport to court
Going to court Toggle accordion
Your case won’t go to trial if the defendant pleads guilty.
If the defendant pleads not guilty and you are a witness, you may be called to give evidence.
You can find out more about how the courts work.
Witness Service Toggle accordion
If your case goes to court the police will pass your details to the Witness Service. The service is run by the Citizen’s Advice and they are based at the court and will help you with information and support throughout the trial.
Regardless of whether your case goes to court or not, local support is available if you need help to cope and, as far as possible, recover.
You can find support in your local area by using the Victims’ Information Service.
Giving evidence Toggle accordion
Giving evidence in court may feel like a daunting prospect, particularly because for many people it will be a totally unfamiliar experience.
To help you to prepare for giving evidence, the CPS has produced an advice for witnesses leaflet.
Special measures Toggle accordion
Special measures are measures which can be put in place to help victims of serious crimes and victims and witnesses who are considered to be vulnerable and intimidated to give their best possible evidence in court. The police and Witness Care Unit will discuss this with you.
The judge or magistrates will decide whether the special measures should be granted following a request from the prosecutor and you will be informed of the Court’s decision.
Special measures may include:
- Giving evidence through a TV link: The witness can sit in a room outside the courtroom and give their evidence via a live television link to the courtroom. The witness will be able to see the courtroom and those in the courtroom can see the witness on a television screen; but the witness does not have to be in the courtroom;
- Video recorded evidence: The witness' evidence is recorded and played to the court;
- Screens around the witness box: A screen is placed around the witness box to prevent the defendant from seeing the witness;
- Removal of wigs and gowns: The judge and lawyers in the Crown Court do not wear gowns and wigs so that the court feels less formal. This is usually used for young witnesses;
- Evidence given in private: This is when members of the public are not allowed in the courtroom;
- Use of communication aids: This is when the witness needs to use an aid to communicate;
- Examination through an intermediary. An intermediary is someone who can help a witness understand questions that they are being asked, and can make his or her answers understood by the court.
If you are particularly worried or afraid, you can also ask the Investigating Police Officer or Witness Care Officer for extra help.
Victim Personal Statement Toggle accordion
If you are a complainant, in addition to giving a witness statement you can, if you want to, give a Victim Personal Statement (VPS). This allows you to describe the effect that a crime has had on you and could include the following:
- How the crime has affected you physically, emotionally or financially
- Whether you feel vulnerable or intimidated
- If you are worried about the defendant being given bail
- Whether you are considering claiming compensation
- Anything you think may be helpful or relevant
The statement can be made at the same time as your witness statement and can be added to at any point before the court hearing. It will become part of the papers the court sees. This will include the police, the CPS, the defence, and the magistrates and judges at the courts seeing the statement. If the impact of the crime changes over time then you should add or amend your VPS and the police may ask you do do this later.
If you are a child or a vulnerable adult, your parent or carer can make the VPS for you if you want them to.
If you are a business you can also make an ‘Impact Statement’ explaining how it has been affected by the crime.
Once you have signed your statement, you won’t be able to change it. But you can give a new one to the police if you want to add more information.
You can ask to read out your VPS in court or have someone read it for you, if the defendant is found guilty.
The court will consider your VPS before sentencing an offender, whether it's read out or not.
Young victims and witnesses Toggle accordion
Special measures are available to support young victims and witnesses to give their best evidence and help reduce some of the anxiety of attending court.
Child witnesses under the age of 18 are automatically eligible to apply for special measures by virtue of section 16 of the YJCEA 1999 and the court just has to satisfy itself that the special measure is likely to maximise the quality of the witness’s evidence before granting an application.
The special measures potentially available include examination of the witness through an intermediary at the police interview and at court; giving evidence “in private” by clearing the courtroom of members of the public; removal of wigs and gowns by judges and lawyers; giving evidence in court from behind a screen; the use of video recorded evidence in chief; giving evidence via live video link from a separate room; the use of pre-trial video recorded cross-examination; and, the provision of aids to communication by means of an interpreter, computer or other device.
The Young Witness Initiative has led to the CPS, police and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Services agreeing to fast track cases involving a witness under the age of 10.
Victim Support's youth programme, You & Co, helps young victims and witnesses cope with the impact and effects of crime. You do not have to report the crime to the police to get support from them.
Find out more about You & Co by visiting their website.
Victims’ Code Toggle accordion
The Victims’ Code sets out what information and support victims of crime should expect from the criminal justice agencies including the police, CPS and the courts.
Witness Charter Toggle accordion
The Witness Charter sets out what information and support witnesses should expect from the criminal justice agencies including the police, CPS and the courts.
After the trial Toggle accordion
After the trial the Police Witness Care Unit will inform you of the outcome of your case. If the defendant is found:
- Not guilty (also known as 'acquitted'), this means that the charge against the defendant could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Guilty, the judge or magistrates will decide on their sentence
If the WCU or officer can't answer all your questions about the sentence they should put you in touch with your local CPS Victim Liaison Unit, who will be able to help.
Sentencing guidelines are produced by the Sentencing Council and help judges and magistrates decide the appropriate sentence for a criminal offence. You can find more information about sentencing works here.
Unduly lenient sentence Toggle accordion
If the CPS feels a sentence is unduly lenient, the CPS will ask the Attorney General to consider the case. Any member of the public may also contact the CPS, or the Attorney General directly, if they have concerns that a sentence is unduly lenient.
A sentence is unduly lenient: "...where it falls outside the range of sentences which the judge, applying his mind to all the relevant factors, could reasonably consider appropriate."
There is no right of appeal against a sentence imposed by a Magistrates' Court and only certain offences are able to be reviewed. The power applies only to sentences that are unduly lenient and not to sentences that are simply lenient.
The Attorney General is responsible for referring Crown Court sentences to the Court of Appeal if he believes that a sentence may be unduly lenient. The referral to the Court of Appeal must be made within 28 days of the date of sentence. The 28 day time limit is absolute and there is no power to extend the time limit or to apply for leave to refer out-of-time.
More information about the process is available here.
Support for relatives of murder victims Toggle accordion
Relatives of murder victims in cases where an individual is acquitted after trial are offered enhanced support from the CPS and the police. National Standards of Support were developed jointly by Justice After Acquittal, a voluntary organisation set up to support families, the CPS and the police. Bereaved families will be given the opportunity to learn, in as much detail as possible, what might have led to the acquittal and what steps can be taken.
Expenses Toggle accordion
The CPS is responsible for paying allowances and expenses to witnesses who are called to give evidence in prosecutions conducted by the CPS. This can include costs towards travel expenses, loss of earning, meal and refreshments, and the cost of child care. The amount you can claim is set by the Attorney General and further information is available here.
We pay all correctly completed witness expense claims within 10 working days of receipt and will give you a copy of the expenses form at court.
Appeals Toggle accordion
The offender can ask for the court’s decision on conviction or sentence to be reviewed by a higher court. The Witness Care Unit will tell you when and where the appeal hearing will take place.
You will be able to go, if you want to. You may also be asked to give evidence. They will also tell you and that one is taking place what the outcome is, including any change to the sentence.
In most cases, if the defendant is found not guilty, the CPS is unable to appeal against this decision. However, your local Victim Liaison Unit will be able to assist if you have any questions.
Victim Contact Scheme Toggle accordion
If you are the victim of a violent or sexual crime and the offender in your case was sentenced to 12 months or more in prison, then you will be invited by the National Probation Service to join the Victim Contact Scheme. If you join you will be kept up to date with what is happening with the offender. That could include:
- important changes in their sentence, eg if they're moved to an open prison
- how and when they'll be released
You won't be told where the offender is being held.
The Victim Contact Scheme can also represent you at the offender’s Parole Board hearing. They can put forward your views about the rules that the offender must follow, like not contacting you and your family. These rules are called 'licence conditions'.
Further information on joining the Scheme is available on their website.
Making a complaint Toggle accordion
You should be treated with respect and understanding throughout the process. But if you are unhappy with the actions of the CPS, you can make a complaint.