The criminal justice system

anyone can be victim of crime Reporting crime

You need to think about whether or not you want to report the crime to the police. If you are worried about what may happen if you do, Victim Support can give you information and advice.

You do not have to report crime directly. There are anonymous ways of informing the police. If you think that reporting a crime to the police might put you or someone else in danger or at risk, you can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. You will not be asked your name and you can give information anonymously.

In some parts of the country there are also independent reporting centres where victims of hate crime, such as racist incidents, domestic violence and crimes against lesbians and gay men, can report the crime anonymously. The centre staff will pass on the information to police.

If you report the crime, the police should give you a booklet called Victims of crime, which explains what will happen next. The police will give you a reference number for your crime and you will need this if you want to make an insurance or criminal injuries compensation claim.

Going to court

Most court cases are dealt with by magistrates' courts. More serious cases have to be sent to the Crown Court for trial by jury. Either way, if you are asked to appear as a witness in court, or if you are a victim or a family member or friend and would like to attend the trial, you may not know what to expect or how to find out more about it. The Witness Service, which is run by Victim Support, is there to provide practical and emotional support to victims, witnesses, their families and friends, before, during and after the court case. The Witness Service is independent of the court, police and other organisations there. It is there just to help you cope with the experience.

All witnesses should be given a copy of the leaflet Witness in court which will explain what is likely to happen. You should also be sent a copy of our leaflet Going to court (available from the Witness Service) and information about how to get to the court and about the facilities available there.

If you would like to visit the court before the trial to see what it is like, the Witness Service should be able to organise it for you.

What happens after court

The police should let you know the outcome of the case. If the defendant is found guilty, there are many sentences that can be given out, including prison, fines and community sentences.

Prison

If an offender tries to contact you from prison, or if you are worried that they might try to, and you don't want them to, you can contact the Prison Service Victim Helpline (run by the Prison Service) on 0845 7585112 - Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm. Calls are charged at local rates. They will inform the prison governor who will investigate and decide what action to take. The governor will write to you to let you know what they are going to do.

Release of offenders

If you are the victim of a violent or sexual crime, and the offender is sentenced to one year or more, the probation service must contact you to ask if you want to be kept informed about when and how the offender will be released. You are also entitled to give your views about any conditions you think are necessary when they are released. The police should give you the leaflet Release of prisoners: information for victims of serious sexual or other violent offences.

Restorative justice

Restorative justice is an approach to trying to deal with the harm done by crime or other conflicts. It tries to make things good again (restored) for the victim and the community and to help the offender to fit back into society.

It gives you, as the victim, a chance to ask the offender questions or tell them how their criminal behaviour has affected you, if you want to. It gives the offender a chance to admit the effect of what they have done, to make up for it in some way and to work to change their behaviour. You might be given the chance to communicate with the offender face-to-face, with a mediator or facilitator present, or indirectly through a mediator.

Since 1998 a range of new measures for dealing with young offenders has been introduced. Some of these measures include some of the principles of restorative justice. It is totally up to you whether or not you take part. You may be approached about the possibility of mediation, attending a restorative conference or Youth Offender Panel meeting, or asked about reparation.