The criminal justice system explained

Reporting a crime

You can report a crime to the police by visiting a police station, by phone or online.

The police will give you information about what to expect from the Criminal Justice System after reporting the crime. They will update you on the investigation usually within five days of you reporting the crime. You will be offered support from the Victim Care Service who will get in touch and help you, unless you ask them not to.

The police will update you on the progress with the investigation and let you know of any arrests or suspects being charged. You can agree with the police how often you would like to hear from them in regards to the investigation.

You may be asked to make a witness statement to explain what happened to you. You can also choose to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS) explaining how the crime has affected you.

Male looking at a laptop

What happens after you have reported something to the Police?

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can advise the police if there is enough evidence to take the case to court; where prosecution is a potential outcome. The CPS can decide to drop or alter charges after someone has been charged.

If your case does not go to court, you should be told the reason for this decision.

What happens in court?

The jury or magistrates will decide if the accused is guilty of the crime during a hearing.

Most cases are dealt with in a Magistrates’ Court, but more serious crimes (for example, murder), are passed onto the Crown Court.

The Court Process

If the case goes to court, you may be called as a witness. You will be contacted by the Witness Care Unit who will assign you a Witness Care Officer or other point of contact. If the offender pleads guilty then the court will give them a sentence which could be prison, a fine or other punishment.

The Witness Care Unit will:

  • tell you if you will be required to give evidence;
  • tell you the dates of the court hearings;
  • provide you with relevant court literature;
  • tell you about court results, sentencing and conviction; and
  • support you until the case has finished.

Verdict and Sentencing

If the suspect is found not guilty or if the case does not proceed then nothing more will happen (the reasons for which would be explained to you).

If the suspect is found guilty, you can ask to read out your Victim Personal Statement in court, or for someone else to read it for you, if you prefer. The judge will take this into account when deciding on the sentence.

The four most common sentences are:

  1. Court fine
  2. Prison sentence
  3. A suspended prison sentence
  4. Community sentence (such as unpaid work, a curfew or going on a drug treatment programme)

Need support?

The Victim Care Service provides free, non-judgmental and confidential help to victims of crime, witnesses, their family, friends and anyone else directly affected by crime. You can take up support at any time throughout the criminal justice process and beyond.