Criminal Procedure

Stage 1

Report to the police, police investigation, and decision to charge.

There is no set time limit to an investigation. It may take days, weeks, months or longer.

The decision to charge is made mainly by the Crown Prosecution Service. The Crown Prosecution Service does not act for victims or the families of victims in the same way as solicitors act for their clients.

The decision to charge is considered by looking at:

Is there enough evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction?

If there isn’t enough evidence: then no charges will be brought against the Defendant, and criminal process ends for the offender.
This is called a discontinuance. You have a right to request that we review that decision under the Victims’ Right to Review scheme.

Under this scheme you can seek a review of the following CPS decisions:

  1. Not to charge
  2. To discontinue (or withdraw in the Magistrates’ Court) all charges thereby ending all proceedings.
  3. To offer no evidence in all proceedings.
  4. To leave all charges in the proceedings to “lie on file”

If you would like to ask for a review of #a qualifying decision, please contact the CPS office where the decision was made.

When you were notified of the decision you will have been provided with the e-mail address, telephone number and postal address of the relevant CPS office. If you do not have those details to hand, contact details can also be found on

You should (normally) submit your request within five working days from the date of the communication of the decision in order to ensure a prompt review.

If there is enough evidence:  the crown prosecutor has to decide whether it is in the public interest to prosecute the offender.

While the public interest will vary from case to case, broadly speaking the more serious an alleged offence the more likely it will be that a prosecution is needed in the public interest.

The interests of the victim are an important factor when considering the public interest.

Crown Prosecutors will always take into account the consequences for the victim and any views expressed by the victim or victims’ family.

Before Charge, an offender may be released on bail during the investigation procedure, and will be given a date to return when a decision to charge should be made.

After Charge – the offender may be released on bail or remanded in custody. The offender will then be given a date on which to make their first appearance at the magistrates court. The time frame for this appearance will depend on whether the offender has been released on bail or remanded in custody.


Court Processes

Criminal offences are categorised based upon their seriousness. There are three classifications, these are:

  • Summary only offences.
  • Either way offences and
  • Indictable only offence.

Summary Only Offences

This type of offence can only be heard in the Magistrates court. Prosecutions in the Magistrate court are often dealt with a lot quicker.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, a summary offence will normally be listed for trial with 6-8 weeks of the first hearing.

A summary trial can last between one and several hours, and sometimes may be adjourned for the next day.

Either Way Offences

These offences can be tried in either the Magistrate court or the Crown Court. The magistrate court will make this decision at an allocation hearing.
If the defendant pleads not guilty and the case remains in the Magistrate Court, then the 6-8 week average will apply.

If the defendant pleads not guilty and the case is sent up to the Crown Court, then the judge in a plea and case management hearing will set a time table for trial.

Indictable Only Offences

This type of offence will be heard in the Crown Court. Although the defendant will make an initial appearance at the Magistrate court.

A plea and Case management hearing will be scheduled within 14-17 weeks of the defendant’s first appearance at the Magistrate Court, at this hearing the judge will set a timetable for the trial.

During the trial process, the defendant may be issued court bail, or remanded in custody. If bail is granted, the court can impose conditions such as a curfew, or non-contact with victims or witnesses.

Being called as a Prosecution Witness

As the victim of the crime, the prosecution may wish to call you as a prosecution witness. You may receive a summons from the court informing you of this. Please see our separate information on being a witness in court for further information on this.

Special Measures Direction for witnesses

Some victims are entitled to a special measures direction. Special measures are various methods used by the courts to help a witness achieve their best evidence for the court. The judge in the case will decide whether a special measure direction is necessary, and what method to use.

As a prosecution witness, the prosecution will ask you questions first – this is called Examination in Chief.

The defence advocate will then ask you questions – this is called Cross Examination.


Conviction and Sentence

Once the defendant has been found guilty or pleads guilty, usually a pre-sentencing report will be requested by the Court to be produced by the probation service. The probation service, usually makes a recommendation for sentence. The court can request a fast delivery pre-sentencing report which is usually available within hours, or the court may decide to adjourn for another day, whilst they await a full pre-sentencing report. This can take between 3-4 weeks depending if the defendant has been bailed post-conviction or remanded.

Magistrates and judges are responsible for deciding what sentence to impose on people found guilty of a crime. They have to take into account the following factors:

  1. The facts of the case
  2. Punishment
  3. Reducing crime
  4. Protecting the public
  5. Rehabilitating the offender
  6. Restorative justice – trying to repair the damage the crime has done to the victim and community
  7. Sentencing guidelines – these are guidelines set down by the Sentencing Council
  8. Circumstances of the offender – the Probation Service may need to produce a report about the offender.

Criminal offences have specific sentencing guidelines, not all of them are imprisonable offences.

There are four types of sentence available to the courts, depending upon the seriousness of the crime. They are:

Discharge – this is when the court decides that given the character of the offender and the nature of the crime, punishment would not be appropriate. There are two types of discharge:

  • Absolute discharge – no further action is taken, since either the offence was very minor, or the court considers that the experience has been enough of a deterrent. The offender will receive a criminal record.
  • Conditional discharge – the offender is released and the offence registered on their criminal record. No further action is taken unless they commit a further offence within a time decided by the court (no more than three years).

Fines – the court can order that the offender pays a fine

Community sentences – these combine punishment with activities designed to change offenders’ behaviour and to make amends – sometimes directly to the victim of the crime.

Imprisonment – for the most serious offences the court may impose a prison sentence. The length of sentence is limited by the maximum penalty for that crime. The sentence imposed by the court represents the maximum amount of time that the offender will remain in custody.

If the person who committed the crime against you is caught, prosecuted and convicted you may be entitled to prepare a Victims Personal Statement (VPS), depending on the crime. The statement can be read to the court to illustrate the impact that this crime has had on you. This may help the court when it is considering the sentence to give the offender.