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Page Category: What to expect from the justice system

Communicating with the offender helps some victims recover from the impact of crime. But decide if it’s for you, and only ever take part on your own terms.

Your entitlements

You can receive information about Restorative Justice and how you can take part. You can seek restorative justice from a range of agencies including; police, Probation Service, HM Prison Service, or Youth Offending Teams. 

Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

Whether or not to take part in restorative justice is a very personal decision and as the victim you should never feel pressured into taking part.

Decide if it’s right for you

Some victims tell us that speaking directly to their offender is an empowering moment in their recovery. However, it’s not for everyone. You need to make sure you’re taking part for you and where you are in your own journey.

You don’t have to meet the offender

Restorative justice doesn’t have to mean a face-to-face meeting. You can exchange letters or emails which some people find less intimidating.

Guidance on restorative justice

The victim information site explains:

  • how restorative justice can help
  • the ways you can communicate with the offender
  • where to get more information

You must claim criminal injuries compensation within two years of reporting the crime. 

Your entitlements

Victims of serious sexual or violent assault can apply for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

Currently no agency is responsible under the Victims Code for informing victims about the scheme. The expectation is that this falls to police or local victim support services.


If you are unsure whether you are eligible to claim criminal injuries compensation, you can call CICA who can advise you on the rules of the Scheme.


If you are unable to complete the form yourself you can contact the CICA and ask them to complete the form with you. Victim Support and other charities supporting victims can offer emotional support as you go through the application process. These charities may not be able to apply for you, or represent you through your application. You can choose to be represented by a trusted friend or family member who can act on your behalf. If you choose to use a lawyer they can charge a flat fee for their services but most charge up to 25pc of the compensation awarded.

Call CICA if there is a delay your claim

The CICA rules state that you must apply for compensation within 2 years of reporting the crime. This time can be extended in certain circumstances. If you are out of time or if you have been advised by the police or prosecutor not to apply until after the trial, contact CICA and ask for advice. If you then apply for compensation after the deadline try to explain the reasons to CICA.

Monitoring progress in your claim

It can take a long time to get a the decision about compensation. You are unlikely to receive regular updates about the progress of your case or automated acknowledgements if you send in documentation. If you are not sure what what is happening with your application check with CICA.

Asking to review the decision and appealing to the CIC Tribunal

You have the right to ask the CICA to review your compensation decision. This includes the decision to make an award and the amount of compensation offered. CICA will send you details about how you can request a review with the decision letter. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the review you have the right to request an appeal with the CIC Tribunal. You do not have to appoint a lawyer to request a review or for the appeal. If you do appoint a lawyer they can charge up to 25% of the final award.

Guidance on claiming compensation

The victim information site explains:

  • who can claim compensation
  • how to apply
  • how to get help with the forms
  • whether you’re entitled to benefit payments

When an offender comes up for parole it’s important you know what you can do as a victim to make your feelings known. The job of the Parole Board is to decide if offenders are safe to be released from prison.

Decisions are made by parole board members – specially trained people from all walks of life. They make their decisions, by assessing the risk the offender poses, if they’re released or moved to open prison conditions. If you’re a victim and the prisoner who committed the crime is going through parole, you can be involved in the parole process.

Your entitlements

Offenders serving sentences for the most serious sexual and violent offences, including homicide, can only be released by the Parole Board. If you’ve opted into the Victim Contact Scheme and the Parole Board are going to consider the offender’s release or a move to open conditions, you are entitled to:

  • be informed by the Probation Service if a Parole Board hearing is to take place
  • make representations about licence conditions to the Parole Board
  • be provided with an explanation if a licence condition you have requested is not included on the offender’s release licence
  • have the Victim Personal Statement (VPS) explained to you by your victim liaison officer (VLO), including how it will be used by the Parole Board
  • make a VPS which will be sent to the Parole Board
  • apply to attend an oral Parole Board hearing to present your VPS in cases where the Parole Board decides that it is appropriate to hold an oral hearing

Following a review of the parole process, victims who opt into the Victim Contact Scheme are entitled to receive reasons for Parole Board decisions. In future, they will be able to request that a Parole Board decision is reconsidered.

The Victim Contact Scheme is the responsibility of the Probation Service, apart from the Parole Board who is responsible for making parole decisions and taking decisions about the oral hearing.

For more about the victim contact scheme, email

Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

This can be a very difficult time for victims of crime so it’s important to take a little time to consider your options.

Try to make a Victim Personal Statement

You will be offered the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement, or use one previously written for the trial or an earlier parole hearing.

For most victims, learning that the offender is able to apply for parole is upsetting. You know it’s going to happen one day, but there is a sense that while their punishment is coming to an end, your pain continues.

We recommend to victims that you make a victim personal statement. It’s a difficult thing to write, but your only opportunity for your voice to be heard. Feedback reveals that panel members do take note of what victims say and many are moved by the victim’s ordeal.

You are not obliged to attend the Parole Board hearing to read your statement. Most victims choose not to. It is a decision you must make for yourself. Remember that whether you attend or not, your statement will be read by the panel members.

You can ask that the offender is not present when you read your statement. However, the final decision is for the Parole Board.

Parole decisions are based on risk not punishment

You must remember that parole is not about whether the offender should be punished for longer. It can only be about whether they present a danger to the public. In making its decision, the Parole Board panel will have up-to-date risk assessments.

Talk to your victim liaison officer if you want to ask that the offender be banned from travelling to certain areas. These are known as ‘exclusion zones’ and will be part of their licence. They will advise you, but your final request must be one that you feel is right for you and your family.

Take someone with you to the hearing

Attending the hearing can mean a lengthy journey to the prison in which the offender is held. Prisons are austere institutions. You can expect to see prisoners in your journey to the hearing room. Be prepared for this.

You will normally be accompanied by a ‘Secretary of State representative’. These are usually very experienced and can answer whatever questions you may have about the parole process.

Make sure you have a close friend or family member to accompany you. Attending the hearing can be traumatising and it’s important you have emotional support immediately afterwards.

Guidance on parole

The victim information site gives more detailed information about:

  • your rights to object
  • personal statements
  • what to do if you’re contacted by an offender

For many victims, their journey continues long after the trial.

Your entitlements

As a victim of crime, you are entitled to:

  • be told about the outcome of the trial including, where available, a brief summary of reasons for the decision
  • be told what sentence is given to the offender (if convicted)
  • be paid any expenses that the CPS have decided are due to you
  • be told about any appeal against the offender’s conviction or sentence
  • opt into the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) if the offender is sentenced to 12 months or more for a specified violent or sexual offence

The Witness Care Unit (WCU) are responsible for informing you about the outcome of the trial and sentence. The CPS are responsible for dealing with your expenses and advising you on any appeals. They will also provide the Victim Contact Scheme with your details.

If you opt in to the Victim Contact Scheme you have a right to:

  • be given a Victim Liaison Officer as your point of contact in the Probation Service
  • be told by the Probation Service if a Parole Board hearing is coming up

Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

When the trial ends you might feel anxious to put everything behind you. But make sure you’ve understood the verdict and that you can access support later if you do need it.

Get the sentence explained to you

Just as many victims have never entered a courtroom, most will be unfamiliar with sentencing and unaware of what a sentence means. It is important that either the prosecutor or someone from the WCU explains what the sentence means in reality.

For example, if the offender is handed a determinate sentence, many are released automatically halfway through the sentence (or even earlier, if they’ve spent time on remand), to spend the remainder of the sentence on licence in the community.

Join the Victim Contact Scheme

Having been through the trauma of a trial, receiving a letter out of the blue asking you to opt into the Victim Contact Scheme is usually the last thing you want. Our advice is always to opt in or at least, keep the letter so that you can reply at a future time of your choice. The scheme keeps you in the loop and gives you the opportunity to make decisions about, for example, requesting licence conditions.

Guidance after the trial

The victim information site gives more detailed information about:

  • how to join the Victims’ Contact Scheme
  • your rights if the offender appeals
  • local support after the trail
  • what to do if the offender contacts you

The trial is an ordeal for most victims, but careful preparation can help.

Your entitlements

You are entitled to:

  • read your victim personal statement (VPS) aloud or have it read aloud on your behalf, subject to the views of the court, if a defendant is found guilty

The police are responsible for informing you about your right to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS). The CPS are responsible for notifying the court if you want to read it aloud or to have it read on your behalf.

Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

A trial can be really hard for victims. Preparing in a practical way, and being aware of some of the frustrating things that can happen might help to reduce the stress.

You can bring your own food

We always recommend bringing food and drink as the days can be long. And if the offender and their family are in the canteen, it might not feel a comfortable place to be.

You must give evidence before you watch the trial

If you’re giving evidence you’ll have to do this before you’re allowed to observe the trial. This can be frustrating when wanting to support other family members who are giving evidence, but there is nothing that can be done.

Sentencing can be delayed

If someone is convicted, sentencing can be delayed until reports are prepared. If you want to be present for sentencing, it’s important to tell the Witness Care Unit.

Prosecutor’s Pledge

Wherever there is an identifiable victim, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must follow their Prosecutors’ Pledge. This sets out how the CPS will treat victims during a trial.

Guidance on the trial

The victim information site gives more detailed information about:

  • giving your evidence
  • preparing for the verdict
  • claiming expenses

The build up to a trial can be stressful. It’s important to make use of the support that’s available and to know what to expect.

Your entitlements

You are entitled to:

  • be told of the time, date and location and outcome of any court hearings
  • be told if you need to give evidence in court, what to expect, and to discuss what help and support you might need with the Witness Care Unit
  • visit the court before the trial, and, on the day, to enter the court through a different entrance from the suspect and sit in a separate waiting area where possible
  • meet the CPS prosecutor and ask him or her questions about the court process where circumstances permit

These entitlements are delivered by the Witness Care Unit and CPS.

Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

It might be your first time inside a court building so it’s important that you’re supported and prepared.

Make use of the Witness Service

If your case goes to court, the police will pass your details to the Witness Service. They’re based at the court and will help you with information and support throughout the trial. 

Be prepared for dates to change

Often, more cases are listed than there are courtrooms. This is because trials often get cancelled at late notice. The argument is that overbooking makes better use of court time. But it means trials are often put back because there isn’t a court room available. For victims who have steeled themselves in readiness for a trial, discovering that it has been put back can be distressing and frustrating. Be prepared for this.

Ask how to avoid seeing the offender

Victims need to be aware that the offender and their family and friends are also in the court building at the same, and there is a possibility of seeing them in the communal areas, corridors, canteen and toilets. If you want to avoid any possibility of this, you need to alert the Witness Care Unit staff before the day. Some court buildings have separate entrances and waiting rooms, but sadly, this does not apply to all court buildings.

Guidance on preparing for the trial

The victim information site explains how to:

  • get ready for court
  • prepare to give your evidence
  • ask for ‘special measures’ – like giving evidence by video link

You have become a victim of crime. Shocked and in some cases traumatised or injured, your first point of contact is the police.

Your entitlements

When you have been a victim of crime, you are entitled to:

  • a written acknowledgement that you have reported a crime, including basic details of the offence and the crime reference number
  • a clear explanation of what to expect from the criminal justice system
  • an enhanced service if you are a victim of serious crime, a persistently targeted victim or a vulnerable victim (eg, under 18 or if you’re disabled) – for example, you can request to give evidence by video link or from behind a screen
  • a needs assessment to help work out what support you need, such as extra home security or installing a panic button
  • be referred to organisations supporting victims of crime
  • be kept informed about the police investigation, such as if a suspect is arrested and charged and any bail conditions imposed
  • make a victim personal statement (VPS) to explain how the crime affected you at the time and continues to affect you

The police are responsible for delivering the above requirements.

All your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

Shock and trauma can make the process of reporting a crime feel like a bad dream. With lots of people giving you information and instructions, you might struggle to take it all in.

Ideally, take a friend or family member with you

As a victim it can be hard to take in everything that’s happening. A friend or family member can support you and help clarify your understanding later on.

Don’t be afraid to check your understanding

You can ask for leaflets to read when you are ready. Police will understand and should be helpful.

Contact support services for help

The police will give you contact details for specialist victim support services, which will depend on the crime and how you’re feeling. We recommend you make contact to discuss your experience and see if they can offer practical help and support.

Get the investigating officer’s contact details

The police aren’t always good at keeping you informed on what’s happening. They might only contact you if they feel they have something to tell you. This can mean weeks of not knowing what is happening, which can be unsettling. Ask for the name and contact number of the investigating officer. And don’t be afraid to contact them if you feel in the dark.

Consider making a victim personal statement

We recommend victims take up the offer of making a victim personal statement (VPS). It’s your only opportunity to tell the court and offender exactly how the crime has affected you. All too often, victims feel like bystanders in the justice system – it’s important your voice is heard.

Guidance on reporting a crime

The victim information site explains how to:

  • report a crime, fraud or anti-social behaviour
  • tell Crimestoppers anonymously
  • give a statement
  • access support services

There is no standard timescale for charging an offender, but a victim can always expect to be told about the decision to charge or not to charge, and can ask for reasons.

Your entitlements

You are entitled to:

  • be informed if the suspect is to be prosecuted or not, or given an out of court disposal (such as a behaviour contract or community work)
  • ask for a review of the police or Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) decision not to prosecute

Both police and the CPS operate their own victims Right to Review schemes. They are responsible for informing victims about their respective schemes. Find out more about the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme

Your entitlements are explained in detail in the Victims’ Code

Our advice

It is possible you will be told about a charging decision that you don’t agree with.

You can question a decision

Don’t be afraid to ask for the reasons behind a charging decision. You can also challenge a decision it if you still think it is wrong or unfair.

Ask for a ‘Right to Review’

Right to Review schemes are a way to get a decision not to charge reviewed by another official person. Make sure you give reasons so that they can understand your point of view and make their decision.

Guidance on charging and bail

The victim information site explains how to:

  • keep up to date
  • protect your privacy
  • challenge a decision

Guidance and advice for victims and witnesses of crime.

Every victim has a different experience of the criminal justice system. Your individual journey depends on the nature of the crime, the outcome of the police investigation and local differences in victim services.

Our guidance on what to expect from the justice system is designed to help you at the different stages of your journey. In particular we want you to know your entitlements under the Victims’ Code.

Victims’ Code and Witness Charter

Victims and witnesses of crime have certain entitlements. For example, the police must give you a written acknowledgement that you have reported a crime.

The Victims’ Code and Witness Charter set out what needs to be done and when, but they are often silent on how it should be done. We also know that the empathy and respect from providers can make a world of difference, but that these things are not easily captured in a code of practice.

Know your entitlements

The Victims’ Commissioner has long campaigned for improvements to victims’ services, and important changes are starting to happen. For now, though, your best reference to the entitlements is the current guidance for victims on GOV.UK.

We know that this guidance can be overwhelming for victims and witnesses. So we’ve produced this guide on what to expect from the justice system that highlights your entitlements at every stage.

As a victim or witness, you have the right to ask why things have gone wrong for you and to have those things put right.

The Victims’ Code and Witness Charter set out the minimum standard of service you should expect to receive at each stage of the criminal justice process.

If you are not happy with your experience, or if you have not received your entitlements under the Victims’ Code, you can complain directly to the agency or service provider.

Who to complain to

Make your complaint directly to the organisation that you are unhappy with. The Victims’ Commissioner cannot complain on your behalf as they are prohibited from helping with individual cases.

You should get an acknowledgement or a full response within 10 working days.

If you are not satisfied with the response

If you do not get a response, or you are not satisfied with the reply, you can ask your MP to refer your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman make final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England and UK government departments and other public organisations. They do this fairly, without taking sides, and their service is free.