The criminal justice process is often unfamiliar to victims of crime whose knowledge of what to expect is often shaped by TV or films. The following video (by Victim Support NI) and flowchart (taken from the Victim Charter) provides a basic overview of the progress of a case from the point of report to after court. Not all cases reported to police will reach the court stage and many defendants plead guilty before a trial which means that the victim is not required to attend to give evidence. For those cases that do reach the court stage there can be a series of hearings and adjournments (delays) before the trial actually happens. As a victim you have a right to information and support throughout this journey.
1. Reporting a crime
The process begins when a victim (or someone else who is aware of what happened) reports a crime to the police. Each victim journey will be unique and your needs may differ at each stage of the process.
2. Support services
You can access support services, including specialist support, whether or not you report the crime to the police.
Contact Victim Support NI (028 9024 3133), who can also advise you about specialist support. More information can be found at www.victimsupportni.co.uk.
3. Police investigation
The police will investigate the crime and check what support you need. They will refer you to Victim Support NI. You may have to give a witness statement. The police will tell you whether a suspect has been identified and will give you regular updates. If there is no suspect or there is not enough evidence, the investigation may be closed. In some instances the police may deal with the case in a way which means that it does not have to go to court.
4. Will it go to court?
If the police send a file to the Public Prosecution Service, a prosecutor will decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to go to court and whether it is in the public interest for this to happen. In some cases, the prosecutor may decide that, for example, a caution is more appropriate. The Victim and Witness Care Unit will let you know the decision. If the case is going to court, the Unit will check what support you need and give you information on how to make a victim personal statement. They will also tell you whether you have to give evidence at court.
5. Preparing for court
Depending on your age, you can get support from Victim Support NI’s Witness Service (for adults aged 18 or over) or the NSPCC’s Young Witness Service (if you are under 18). This may include visiting the court so that you have a better idea of what to expect.
6. The trial and giving evidence
If the defendant pleads guilty before the start of the trial you will not usually have to give evidence. If the trial goes ahead, the Victim and Witness Care Unit will keep you informed about what’s happening and what you need to do. They will also check again what support you might need. If you have additional needs, some extra help (known as ‘special measures’) may be provided if you want this and the judge agrees.
The Victim and Witness Care Unit will let you know the outcome of the case. If the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, the Unit will tell you about any sentence given and what this means.
8. After the trial
If there is a sentence of six months or more, the offender is going to be supervised by the Probation Board for Northern Ireland or will be subject to a hospital order, the Victim and Witness Care Unit will send you details of the relevant post-conviction victim information scheme.