Legal Process

The legal system in this country serves to bring justice both to the victim and the offender.

This means that whether you come into contact with the legal system as an offender, a victim or even as a witness, you will be expected to co-operate as much as possible to make sure that justice is served.

Crime and Punishment

If you commit a crime then you may get involved in the legal process.

This starts with getting arrested and goes right through to serving a sentence. Read on to find out what this process involves.

Getting arrested

You may be stopped by a police officer if they think you have committed a crime or are about to do so.

They also have the right to search your outer clothing to look for drugs or weapons.

If the police suspect you of breaking the law then they will arrest you. You will then be taken to the police station to be questioned.

It is a crime to resist arrest.

If you are under 17 then you must have a parent or carer, or other appropriate adult, with you before you are questioned.

When you get to the police station you should be told your rights and asked if you want a solicitor there to represent you. If you don’t already know a solicitor then you can speak to a duty solicitor.

Police Custody

When you are arrested you become the responsibility of the police. This is also referred to as being under police custody.

While you are under police custody you have several rights. For instance, you can make a phone call and have the Codes of Practice read to you, which will explain how you should be treated.

After you have been arrested you will be charged by the police. You may then be able to leave the police station on bail until your trail.

However, the police may also decide that you should remain under police custody until your court case comes up. This will usually mean being kept in a reprimand centre.

Going To Court

At some point after you are charged you will be sent a court summons. This tells you when you must go to court for your hearing.

It is against the law not to attend a court hearing if you have been ordered to in writing.

Most young people between 10 and 17 have their trials heard in the Youth Courts, where they will be dealt with by specially trained magistrates. Very serious crimes may be taken straight to the Crown Court.

At your first hearing, your case will be heard. You have the right to have the proceedings, and what your charge means, explained to you.

If you are found guilty at your trial then you will be sentenced and convicted.

If you are found guilty in a Youth Court then you have the right to appeal against your sentence, conviction or both. This appeal will be heard in a Crown Court.

If you are found not guilty then this is called an acquittal and you are allowed to go back home.


There are four main types of sentence.

  • A financial penalty – this is usually a fine. You can be fined up to £250 up to the age of 13, and up to £1,000 when you are between 14 and 18 years old.
  • A community order – this is a punishment that does not involve you paying a fine or being locked up. For instance, it may be a curfew, an ASBO or drug treatment order.
  • A sentence of detention – this will usually take place in a young offenders’ institution.
  • A referral order- this is an order made by the Youth Court that you should meet with the Youth Offender Panel to agree how you can make up for your crime and keep out of trouble in the future

Within these main brackets you will find a huge range of sentences including Action Plan orders, reparation orders and custodial sentences.

See for a more comprehensive list and explanation.

What is a crime?

Anything that breaks the law is considered a crime. This usually involves anti-social, harmful, destructive and dangerous behaviour.

Crimes tend to fall into the following categories:

  • Damage to Property – this includes arson, criminal damage and possession with intent to destroy or damage
  • Drugs – this includes possession and supply
  • Killing – such as death by careless driving and manslaughter
  • Motoring offences- these include driving whilst disqualified or careless driving
  • Offensive weapons – these may be found on you during a stop and search
  • Public Order – such as breach of the peace or harassment
  • Sexual offences – these include attempted rape and indecent exposure
  • Theft – including handling stolen goods and robbery
  • Violence – such as actual bodily harm

There are also crimes that do not fall into these categories such as resisting a police officer.

If you are a victim

If you are a victim of a crime then you have several ways to report it to the police.

  • For serious crimes call 999 and explain the circumstances
  • If it is a less serious crime then report it to your local police service. The number is 0845 6070 999
  • Report the crime anonymously through Crimestoppers by calling 0845 555 111
  • Go to the local police station and report the crime there.

When you report a crime the police may need to take physical evidence from you as well as a written statement. This physical evidence can include photos, fingerprints and clothes.

Once you have reported the crime you will then be given a crime reference number, which you can use later to find out what is happening with your case or to claim insurance. This will not happen if you report it anonymously through Crimestoppers.

As well as reporting the crime you can also make a ‘victim personal statement’. This lets you explain the effect that the crime has had on you personally.

The statement may then be used by the judge or magistrate when they are sentencing the offender.

You may be called as a witness when the case goes to court.

For advice and support when or if this happens, get in touch with the Witness Service through Victim Support.

If you have been injured because of a crime of violence, then you can apply for a payment under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. It does not matter whether the suspect has been caught, but there are conditions to whether you receive any compensation.

If you are a witness

If you witness a crime being committed then you should report it to the police. They will take a written statement from you.

They may also ask you to come to court when the case goes to trial.

Many people who witness a crime find it unsettling and shocking. Do not worry. There are lots of organisations and people out there to give you support before, during and after any court cases you have to attend.

To find out more about being a witness, visit:

Rehabilitation of offenders

According to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you don’t always have to declare cautions or convictions (unless they resulted in a prison sentence of more than 30 months) once they are ‘spent’, which simply means once they have run out.

The amount of time it takes for a caution or conviction to become spent, so that you don’t have to declare it, varies depending on the sentence or disposal received. A disposal is a type of prosecution that means you don’t have to go to court.

Since December 2008, this law also applies to simple cautions, reprimands, warnings and conditional cautions; even those received before the law changed. What this means is that if, for example, you received a conditional caution before December 2008 which is spent but which you previously had to declare on job applications, you may no longer have to.

There are some instances where you will have to declare any previous cautions or convictions, despite the law change. For example, if you apply for jobs in certain areas, such as working with children or vulnerable adults, in law enforcement and the legal system, if you apply for certain licenses (such as a licence to work in the security industry) and in some legal proceedings.

You can visit the criminal justice system website to find out more.

DNA database

The laws governing the national DNA database were changed in 2009 so that many innocent people’s details would no longer be kept on record.

If you are under 18 years of age and are arrested, but not convicted, for a crime that is considered ‘less serious’, your DNA profile will be deleted from the DNA database when you turn 18.

Who can help?

The Criminal JUstice System website offers advice to explain all aspects of the criminal justice system, form victems of crime, witnesses and defendants. Visit their site at

The Community Legal Service (CLS) runs an easy-to-use service that can help you to deal with your legal problems. It provides free information, help and advice direct to the public on a range of common issues. Visit the CLS site at:

You can receive advice and support on being a witness from Victim Support. Visit their website at:

There is lots of useful advice for young people who are victims or witnesses of a crime at

You can report a crime anonymously through Crimestoppers simply by calling 0845 555 111. Visit their website at for more information.

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