This section is about how different parts of the legal system work together to bring criminals to justice and ensure victims and witnesses are helped through the process.
The time between the initial police investigation and the resulting court case can be a worrying one for victims and witnesses when they can feel most vulnerable. If you feel this way, you can contact the officer dealing with your case, or a witness care officer who has special training in dealing with people involved in the criminal justice system.
There are also a number of things the police can do to help you through this process and ensure that you don’t feel intimidated.
When an offender has pleaded guilty or has been found guilty of a crime, they may be sent to prison or to a young persons detention centre but a number of other sentences can also be given.
A custodial sentence, that’s one where the offender is imprisoned, can be suspended. This means that an offender will be free to go back to their normal life as long as they don’t commit any more crime. If they do break the law again, they can be jailed for the original term as well as for the new offence.
An offender can also be ordered to carry out unpaid work under a community order, which might involve doing some work for the public good such as making garden furniture for charity, litter picking, canal dredging, gardening or decorating.
This would be carried out under supervision by the Probation Service.
The court can order fines to be paid as a penalty for a range of offences, or additionally order the defendant to pay compensation to a victim. This would be made through the court’s administration office.
A conditional discharge can also be given – this allows the offender to wipe the slate clean if they don’t re-offend during a given period of time. Absolute discharges can be made in cases where the court believes no penalty should be given.
If you’ve suffered loss as a result of a reported crime, once someone is charged, you will be asked to complete a court compensation form. This has a number of sections on which you can give details of the loss or injury you’ve suffered. If the defendant is convicted, an application can be made to the court on your behalf. It’s important that you complete this form and return it together with any supporting documents such as invoices or estimates as soon as possible, otherwise an application may not be made.
If you have difficulty with the form, the case officer, witness care officer or the Victim Support caseworker can help you fill it in. You may also be able to claim from the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority.
Any expenses you incur in attending court may be claimed on a separate form which is normally given to you at court.
If a convicted offender is unhappy about a decision made by a court, he or she may be able to lodge an appeal to a higher court either against conviction, sentence or both.
If this happens, you’ll be informed by your witness care officer. In some circumstances, particularly where the appeal is against conviction, you may be required to give evidence again in the higher court.
Appeals are only made in a limited number of cases and there are strict guidelines and timescales for the lodging of any appeal.
When an offender receives a custodial sentence of more than a year, the Probation Service will inform you about their release date. You will also be given the chance to give your views about conditions that could be placed on the offender when he or she is released from prison to help them from reoffending.
After watching the JIGSAW video, the Useful Information section will help you find a local service that can provide advice and offer support during and after the whole process.