The criminal justice system explained
When a crime is reported, the police will decide if the case can be investigated. Some investigations will take a long time, while others are never solved.
Catching the offender may prove impossible, and there’s sometimes not enough evidence to charge anyone with the crime.
How are minor crimes dealt with by the police?
The police will usually deal with minor crimes by giving a:
- police fine (known as a ‘penalty notice’);
- caution or warning; or
- community resolution.
In the event of a minor incident being reported, the victim will sometimes agree to accept an apology, but the police can also decide to charge someone with a minor crime.
What happens if someone is charged with a crime?
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will advise the police on cases where prosecution is possible. In more serious cases, they’ll also determine what the defendant will be charged with.
The CPS uses two tests to assess whether there’s enough evidence to prove the case and whether bringing it to court is in the public interest.
What happens in court?
A hearing is held where a jury or magistrates decide if the accused is guilty of the crime.
While most crimes are dealt with in a magistrates’ court, the more serious crimes such as murder are passed onto the Crown Court.
How are offenders sentenced?
Depending on the type of court, either the magistrates (in a magistrates’ court) or the judge (if Crown Court) will decide how the offender is sentenced.
They’ll need to consider the need to:
- protect the public;
- punish the offender;
- ensure the offender changes their behaviour and makes up for their crime; and
- cut future crime.
Confused about the different types of court sentence?
When a person is found guilty of a crime in court, there are four common sentences:
- court fine;
- prison sentence;
- a suspended prison sentence; and
- a community sentence (such as unpaid work, a curfew or going on a drug treatment program).
Suspended sentences force the offender to serve their sentence in the community in the knowledge that if they commit another crime, they’ll usually be sent to prison.
We can support you through every stage of the criminal justice system, whether you’re a victim of crime, a witness, or supporting someone close to you. If you’d like help understanding the criminal justice system and going through the process, talk to us.