The criminal justice process
When a crime is reported, the police decide if they can investigate the case.
Investigations can take a long time and some cases are never solved.
They might not be able to catch the offender, or there might not be enough evidence to charge someone with the crime.
The police can decide to deal with a minor crime by giving:
- a caution or warning
- a police fine, called a penalty notice
- a community resolution
The victim sometimes agrees to accept an apology if it's a minor incident.
The police can also decide to charge someone with a minor crime.
Restorative Justice approaches can also be used in community resolution.
Restorative Justice (RJ) offers victims an opportunity to be heard and to have a say in the resolution of offences, including agreeing restorative or reparative activities for the offender.
There are a number of types and levels of RJ and it can be used out of court, in addition to a prosecution, or to form part of a sentence.
RJ can provide a means of closure and enable the victim to move on.
RJ also provides an opportunity for offenders to face the consequences of their actions and the impact that it has had upon others.
The Crown Prosecution Service advises the police on cases for possible prosecution and reviews cases submitted by the police.
They determine what defendants should be charged with in more serious or complex cases.
Their decision whether or not to prosecute is based on two tests; whether there is enough evidence to prove the case, and whether it is in the public interest to bring the case to court.
The court will hold a hearing where magistrates or a jury decide if someone is guilty of the crime.
Most crimes are dealt with in a magistrates' court.
The most serious crimes (like murder or robbery) are passed on to a higher court, called the Crown Court.
Magistrates (in a magistrates' court) or a judge (in the Crown Court) decide on how offenders are sentenced.
The magistrates or judge must consider the need to:
- Punish the offender
- Protect the public
- Change the offender's behaviour
- Get the offender to make up for their crime
- Cut crime in the future
When a court finds someone guilty of a crime, the most common sentences are:
- A court fine
- A community sentence - e.g. a curfew, unpaid work or going on a drug treatment programme
- A prison sentence
- A suspended prison sentence
In a suspended prison sentence, the offender serves their sentence in the community, but if they commit another crime they will usually be sent to prison.