This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, better known as the Victims’ Code, is a statutory document that explains how victims must be treated in England and Wales. There are equivalent codes in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The codes are very similar, but the entitlements set out on this page reflect the English and Welsh code.

Anyone who has suffered harm (either physical, emotional or financial) as a result of a crime is covered by the Victims’ Code. The families of victims are therefore covered. The Victims’ Code only applies to individuals. Businesses and organisations are not covered. Witnesses aren’t covered either. The Witness Charter explains how they should be treated.

At the point of report

Victims are entitled to following when they report their crime to the police:

  • An acknowledgement of their crime report and a crime reference number.
  • Contact details for the police officer dealing with the case.
  • Information explaining what will happen next.
  • Information explaining how the victim will be updated.
  • A ‘needs assessment’ to find suitable support.
  • Contact by a victim support organisation, within 2 days.

During a police investigation

The police must tell victims when a suspect is:

  • Arrested or charged.
  • Set free or released on bail.

They may choose to share more information about the progress of their investigation, but they will often keep some information from victims for the sake of the investigation.

What if there isn’t a police investigation?

Police forces make independent decisions about how to tackle crime in their area. They can decide that investigating a crime report will be too costly or time consuming. In such cases they must tell the victim why they have chosen not to investigate their report.

Members of the public can complain if they are unhappy about the service they received from the police. The library’s paper a short guide to police complaints helps those supporting constituents who are unhappy with the police.

Some repeat victims of anti-social behaviour can request a ‘Community Trigger’ (also known as an ‘ASB case review’). A Community Trigger requires specific public services (including the police) to review how they responded to a victim’s complaints. Eligibility for the Community Trigger is different across the country. Local authorities and police forces should maintain information about their local Community Trigger scheme on their websites.

After a police investigation

Following their investigation, the police will decide to either:

  • Charge a suspect.
  • Issue an ‘out of court disposal’ to an offender.
  • Close the case without charging or issuing an ‘out of court disposal’.

The police must tell the victim which of the following outcomes they have reached.

When a suspect is charged

Most suspects who are charged are then prosecuted at court. Victims whose cases proceed to court are entitled to:

  • Make a victim statement explaining how the crime affected them and impacted their life.
  • Not have to wait more than two hours if they are giving evidence.
  • Find out what is happening in their case via a victims’ contact point.

What if the CPS has decided not to proceed with a case?

Sometimes the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will decide not to take a case to court. Victims can request a review of a CPS decision through the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme. Similar schemes exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

When a suspect is issued an “out of court disposal”

An “out of court disposal” allows the police to deal with offenders who admit guilt. There are two preferred “out of court disposals” in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Community Resolutions and Conditional Cautions. Offenders issued with one of these must meet conditions set by the police. The police often choose the conditions from a local document called the Community Remedy Scheme. Offenders might be asked to attend rehab, take part in community service or apologise to the victim. The police must ask victims if they want to help choose the conditions attached to an offender’s out of court disposal. The police must impose the victim’s chosen conditions where reasonable. Victims are not involved in the “out of court disposal” process in Scotland.

When the police decide not to charge anyone

Some victims in England and Wales have the right to request a review of a police decision not to charge a suspect. Victims of the most serious crimes and those targeted, vulnerable or intimidated can ask the police to review a charging decision in their case. Police forces should provide information on their websites on how these victims can request a review of a charging decision.

Further information

The Ministry of Justice has produced a pamphlet which helps victims of crime understand the support you can expect. The Government has listed free sources of help for victims on their website.

The Victims’ Commissioner is an independent office dedicated to promoting the interests of victims and witnesses. The Victims’ Commissioner advises government on how best to meet the needs of victims and witnesses.

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are responsible for commissioning victims’ services for their police force areas. PCCs provide support to other victims of crime, including serious and violent crime, in their areas.

Police forces have information on their websites about how they support victims and witnesses of crime.

Victim Support is a national charity providing support for people affected by crime. Citizens Advice provide guidance on navigating the legal system and finding legal help. Other charities specialise in support for victims of specific crimes.

Disclaimer

The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.

Image: UK Police / tbz.foto / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0