Information for victims and witnesses
If you’ve been a victim of any crime or you have been affected by a crime committed against someone you know, there are a variety of sources of help and advice.
On this website you will find extensive information about many aspects of sentencing.
- There are short videos about sentencing and how sentences are worked out.
- You will find information about a wide variety of topics such as how sentencing works and what types of sentence there are, as well as some common sentencing myths.
- There are also pages explaining what happens at a sentencing hearing, what can happen at a trial and how decisions are made as to whether a case should be heard in a magistrates’ court or the Crown Court.
Code of practice for victims of crime
The Government has published a Code of practice for victims of crime that aims to put victims first in the criminal justice system and make the system easier to navigate.
There is information in the Code about your rights as a victim and about victim personal statements. If you have been the victim of a crime, the personal statement is your opportunity to tell the court about the effect the crime has had on you.
The Witness Charter
Whether you are going to court as a witness for the prosecution or for the defence, you are covered by the government’s Witness Charter. The Charter sets out what help and support you can expect at every stage of the process from each of the service providers involved in the criminal justice system: the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the Witness Service and defence lawyers.
Going to court as a victim or witness
You might be asked to go to court to give evidence about what happened to you or what you saw. This can be a daunting prospect, especially if you do not know what to expect. This information is relevant for all victims and witnesses called to court to give evidence.
Before the court date
If you are a victim or a witness for the prosecution, your witness care officer will keep you informed about the progress of the case and support you through the process.
If you are a witness for the defence, the defence lawyer will tell you when you have to go to court.
You will usually be given a fixed court date. Sometimes you’ll be given a 2 to 4 week period you’ll need to keep free. This is known as a ‘floating trial’. You will be given one working day’s notice before you have to come to court.
You should tell your witness care officer or the defence lawyer straight away if you cannot make the trial date.
The Witness Service run by Citizen’s Advice provides free and independent support for victims and witnesses. They are based at every court in England and Wales and can arrange for you to visit the court before the trial so you know what to expect.
You may be able to use special measures to allow you to give evidence in the best possible way. Special measures include:
- giving evidence through a TV link
- video-recorded evidence
- screens around the witness box
- removal of wigs and gowns
- evidence given in private
- communication aids
- examination through an intermediary
If you feel special measures will help you give evidence you should talk to your witness care officer.
If you gave a statement to the police, you will be able to see it again before you give evidence so you can remember what you said.
On the day
You won’t be able to watch any of the trial before you have given your evidence.
When you arrive at court to give evidence you will be shown to a waiting area away from the defendant’s family. You can sometimes request to use a different door away from the front of the court. You may have to wait some time before you are called to give evidence.
When you are called into the court room you will be shown to the witness box. If you find standing difficult you can ask the magistrates or judge if you can sit down.
You will be asked to take the oath. This means that you promise to tell the truth.
If you are a witness for the prosecution, you will be asked questions by lawyers from the prosecution (known as “examination in chief”) and the defence (known as “cross-examination”), in that order. If you are a witness for the defence, it will be the other way around. This process is an essential part of the justice system.
You may also be asked questions by the magistrates, the clerk or the judge. In the Crown Court the jury can ask questions for the judge to read out.
Once you have given your evidence the court will tell you that you can leave the witness box. After this you can leave the court, or stay to listen to the rest of the case if you want to.
At the end of the case, if the defendant is found guilty, they will be sentenced by the magistrates or judges at a sentencing hearing.
How are victims represented in the sentencing guidelines?
Sentences are decided based on the harm caused or intended and the offender’s level of blame – so the impact on the victim is an important consideration in determining the offender’s sentence.
The Sentencing Council produces guidelines that magistrates and judges refer to in court when sentencing offenders. The guidelines always take into account the impact on the victim and do an important job in making sure the punishment fits the crime.
When putting together draft guidelines the Council always involves victims’ groups so that the experience of victims is considered at the outset. The Council holds consultations on all our draft guidelines so that anyone affected by the offences, or any member of the public, can give us their views.
After the court date
Your witness care officer will tell you the result of the case.
If you are a victim and the defendant is found guilty you may receive compensation.
Compensation and the surcharge
Courts will consider making compensation orders in relevant cases, which means that if the offender has the money to pay compensation to their victim, then they can be required to do so. Also, the courts must order a surcharge – an extra amount added on – which is paid into a fund that helps improve services for victims of crime.
You may also want to consider using the restorative justice scheme.
Find out more
- Get support as a victim of crime
- Code of practice for victims of crime
- Victim Support
- Witness Charter
- Citizens Advice Witness Support
- Citizens Advice Witness Support – witnesses under 18
The information on this page is a summary only and is not a substitute for legal advice.