Articles Tagged ‘legal advice - Brake the road safety charity’

Advice for older drivers

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It is common for older people to suffer from medical conditions, slower reaction times and a reduced ability to multitask that can impair your ability to use roads safely, especially if you drive. This may be a gradual process, so you may not notice straight away that your driving is affected.

The older you are, the more important it becomes to take the greatest possible care on and around roads. Older people typically suffer worse injuries in crashes, and have lower survival rates, because their bones tend to be less strong and they may not respond to emergency treatment as well.

Drivers must renew their licence at age 70, and every three years after that, confirming to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that their eyesight meets current standards, and that they do not have any medical conditions that may affect their driving.

However, Brake advises older drivers to go further than this: ensuring you are fit to drive, and potentially deciding to stop driving if and when needed, is crucial to keeping yourself and other people around you safe.  Follow the advice below and ensure you keep up-to-date with changing road rules: refresh your knowledge by buying or downloading a current copy of the Highway Code.

Risks for older drivers

Eyesight

If you drive, you need to be certain that your eyesight is good. Many people suffer from deteriorating eyesight as they age, and eye diseases are also more common among older people.

While older drivers are less likely to speed, they are more likely to crash in built-up environments, such as at junctions, often due to a failure to see something and react in time. Poor eyesight can be a particular problem at night, as night-time vision begins to deteriorate from around the age of 50, so restricting your driving to daylight hours can be safer. It is also wise to get tinted glasses made to your prescription for driving on bright days, as older eyes are similarly affected by dazzling sunlight.

Getting professional eye tests at least annually – free in the UK to those aged over 60 – is very important. Don’t assume you’ll notice an eyesight problem – vision can deteriorate significantly without you noticing. As well as checking vision over distance, professional tests can also check for problems in your central or peripheral vision, and catch conditions before they get worse. It’s therefore vital for older drivers to get their eyes tested with an optician annually, or straight away if you think there might be a problem.

For more information, read our advice on eyesight.

Medication

If you are taking any medication, only drive if you are certain that it doesn't affect your ability to drive. It is an offence to drive, or attempt to drive, while unfit through over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure. If you’re advised, or the label says, not to drive if you feel sleepy or impaired, assume that the medication could affect your driving and don’t drive: it’s impossible to accurately judge whether you’re impaired. If you’re taking medication that can affect driving, stop your driving, not your medication: coming off some medicines could put you more at risk.

Hearing

Good hearing is important for driving, warning drivers of potential hazards or an emergency vehicle approaching. Hearing begins to deteriorate slightly from age 30-40, and the rate of deterioration increases as you get older. Older drivers should have hearing tests at least annually, and straight away if you notice any problems with your hearing.

Movement

Older people may suffer from joint and muscle stiffness, which can make it more difficult to turn in your seat to check blind spots or to make sure that the road is clear before reversing. In many cases, adjusting seat and steering column positions can help, along with extra blind spot mirrors and technological solutions such as power steering and automatic transmission. Doing 15-30 minutes of daily stretches and physical exercise can also improve your flexibility, range of motion and coordination.

Tiredness

Whatever your age, getting a good night’s sleep beforehand, and taking regular breaks while driving (of at least 15 minutes at least every two hours, preferably more), helps you stay alert and focused. You may also find it helps to avoid driving long journeys and at times of the day you’re most prone to drowsiness (like mid afternoon and late at night). It’s also important to know what steps to take if you feel tired at the wheel.

Time to stop driving?

OldLadyDrivingNo-one likes to feel that they are losing their independence or to worry that their quality of life may be affected if they no longer drive. However, when balanced against the risk of injuring yourself or someone else in a crash, you may reach a time when it’s a good idea to consider stopping driving.

If you think you may be beginning to lose concentration, have slower reactions, or lose your memory, or are feeling increasingly anxious about driving, consider discussing the subject with family members to see if they have any concerns; and make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your continuing fitness to drive. You might also find that having your driving assessed at a mobility centre can help you to make a decision.

If you decide to stop driving, you can still be active and mobile without relying on car travel. Public transport can be a cheap, easy, sociable and stress-free alternative. Pensioners are entitled to significant discounts, including free off-peak bus travel in England – see Age UK’s information on transport concessions for older people.

You can also call your local council and ask about any local community bus services you can use.

As well as protecting yourself and other road users, using buses or trains could save you money (no more road tax, insurance, maintenance costs, or petrol and parking costs) and help reduce pollution.

Campaign in your community

Retired people can make great campaigners, as they often have the experience, skills, patience and time to make a powerful difference in their community. If your community suffers from speeding traffic, a lack of pavements or safe crossing places, or limited public transport services, find out how to campaign in your community to make it a safer, healthier, more sociable place.

Updated September 2015

Child seats and fittings

Key facts

  • In 2015, 11 children under the age of 12 years old were killed while travelling in cars in Great Britain, 200 were seriously injured and there were 5,093 child casualties (reported to the police) in total. [1]
  • A study of Thames Valley and Hampshire revealed that in 2014 the number of children unrestrained in both the front passenger seat and rear passenger seats were lower than in 2008/9; [2]
  • Properly restrained infants are on average 12.7 times less likely to present to a trauma centre following a motor vehicle crash [3];
  • In the event of a crash, rear-facing child seats can reduce the likelihood of death and injury in young children and small infants by up to 90% [4];
  • As of March 2017 manufacturers are not allowed to develop booster cushions or backless booster seats for children shorter than 125 cm or weighing less than 22kg, parents that have already purchased booster seats matching these specifications can continue to use them for their child [5].

Introduction

In 2015, 19 children under the age of 15 were killed while travelling in cars in Great Britain and 315 were seriously injured [6].

When a child is present in a moving road vehicle it is essential that the appropriate child restraints are used. Children are one of the most vulnerable road users, no matter how they travel. Their undeveloped frames are open to more severe injuries and ill-prepared to absorb the violent crash forces of a vehicular impact. Appropriate child restraints are designed to distribute crash forces with minimal damage to the soft tissues, cradle the vulnerable head and neck of the child and restrict their movement during and after impact.

Child restraints are a vital passive safety system and their effect cannot be underestimated. In 2015, a study of Thames Valley Police Authority and Hampshire Constabulary indicated that the percentage of child passengers unrestrained within a vehicle on the road had actually increased between 2008/9 and 2014 in the front and rear passenger seats [7].

It is important that the public are aware of the danger that children are in if they are not using the appropriate restraints, fitted correctly within the vehicle. An adult seat belt is not designed to protect a child. Using a properly fitted child restraint that is appropriate for the child’s size and weight reduces the risk of fatalities, and can prevent the most serious injuries in many situations [8].

Find out more: Read our advice for drivers on belting up and choosing safer vehicles.

Legal framework

In the United Kingdom, drivers are legally responsible for making sure that all passengers in their vehicle under the age of 14 are appropriately restrained. Children under the age of 12, or below 135 cm tall, are not allowed to use an adult seat belt without ‘additional restraints’ (child seats, booster chairs and booster cushions), except under legally ‘exceptional’ circumstances. [9]

Brake and other road safety professionals, strongly advise that drivers and parents ensure that all children under 150 cm tall use proper child restraints, as we believe that adult seat belts do not provide sufficient protection to children below this height [10].

Exceptions to the legal requirement for child restraints in moving road vehicles include [11]:

  • Taxis, hire cars and mini buses: When the child is travelling in a taxi, hire car or mini bus and a travel seat is unavailable the child is not require to wear an appropriate restraint. However. If a child-seat is fitted within the vehicle it should be used.
  • Unexpected journeys: There are legal exemptions for short, unexpected but necessary journeys – for example an emergency hospital visit. This exemption is only applicable if the child is over the age of three and there are no correct child restraints available. If the child is under the age of three they cannot legally travel in the vehicle without appropriate child restraints.
  • Emergency vehicles: Children can travel in emergency service vehicles, such as police cars and ambulances, without using child restraints if appropriate restraints are not available.

Regulating child restraints

Child seat development and classification is primarily legally controlled by United Nations ECE Regulation No.44 and the more recent United Nations ECE regulation No.129, introduced in 2013. Each of these regulations specify standards that both child restraints and the vehicles they are placed in must adhere to, to ensure children using the restraint are to remain secure and protected when on the move.

Currently, only EU-approved child car seats can be used in the UK, recognisable by the capital ‘E’ label in in a circle fixed to the product. This regulation will undoubtedly be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in 2017, and it is important that safeguards are put in place to ensure that child restraints maintain a high standard of protection [12].

UN ECE Regulation 44 [13]

This legislation stipulates that child restraints should be approved to a required technical standard, based on the child’s height and weight as opposed to age. It sets out general specifications for child seats, the criteria for type approval and frontal crash testing and the product approval process and qualifications.

The regulation specifically requires all road vehicles to be fitted with a pair of ISOFIX ‘anchorages’ to be installed in vehicles, designed to withstand a static load of 8 kN (KiloNewtons) without deforming.

Read more: On ISOFIX systems below.

UN ECE Regulation 129 (i-Size) [14]

In 2013 UN ECE 129, known as the ‘i-Size’ legislation, was introduced to run parallel with Regulation 44, introducing two important changes to child seat legislation.

First, child restraints under the i-Size legislation are classified according to the height of a child as opposed to the weight. This was based on the assessment that it would be a more effective means of assessing the degree of protection a child seat would provide children, whose height can vary and may not always relate to their weight.

Second, the i-Size regulation requires children to travel in rear-facing child seats for longer, and these restraints can be used by parents of any age of child within the height boundaries of the product. These seats must be used for any child under 83 cm tall (typically around 15 months old). As rear-facing child seats have been proven to be safer, Regulation 129 has been a welcome development [15].

Currently, the ‘i-Size’ child seats will only fit in approved vehicles, the number of which will increase over the coming years. Eventually they will become available for all types of child seat. Brake recommends parents purchase seats meeting i-Size regulations if these are available for their vehicle.

Additional restrictions introduced include the requirement that forward-facing child restraints will not be designed to accommodate a stature below 71 cm and a convertible seat in rear-facing configuration must accommodate children up to 83cm tall.

This legislation has also introduced a requirement for these child seats to be evaluated in side-impact tests, using more advanced crash dummies that take the fragility of the child into account. A study into the new testing criteria found that analysis is now more closely focussed on the level of protection provided for the most vulnerable regions of a young child’s body in a road crash, the head/neck, abdomen and chest. [16]

ISOFIX

The ISOFIX is a system, developed in the 1990s, provides purpose-built latches in new vehicles to enable child restraint systems to be affixed in a manner that prevents incorrect fitting and the consequences that can emerge as a result. It is widely regarded as the safest option for child restraints, and UN ECE Regulation 44 clearly specifies that ISOFIX connectors must be able to withstand a static force of 8kN [17]. 

However, a recent report from the European Council, assessing the benefits and feasibility of new technologies and the measures in place for vehicle occupant safety, highlights a problem with the ISOFIX system. The report questions whether the static load requirements of the ISOFIX is appropriate to ensure the safety of the child, as the regulations fail to consider the dynamic load rating (the level of impact force) a vehicle could experience during a crash. As a result, it is difficult to determine if the technology designed to reduce the impact of a road crash on the fragile body of a child, would adequately protect a heavier child in those situations. [18]

The EC report endorses increasing the ISOFIX anchorage strength in vehicles, possibly to 9kN or 11kN, as the most cost-beneficial solution. A decision that could prevent parents from prematurely switching their children from child seats to booster seats and the injuries that can accompany this in the event of a road crash. [19]

Although it has been a requirement for all new cars to have ISOFIX anchor points fitted, models purchased or developed before 2013 still do not have the required fittings. This accounts for many of the cars currently on the roads in the UK. [20]

Types of child restraint

There are a range of child restraint systems available, each appropriate for different sizes and weights, the legal standard for child seat labelling. Studies have shown that choosing child restraints on the basis of age is dangerous, as children do not experience growth at the same rate and two children of the same age can be markedly different in terms of height and weight [21].

The decision on which child restraint to choose should not be rushed, instead it should be carefully based on how appropriate the restraint is and whether it complies with UN legislation.

More information on the types of child restraint currently on the market is available below:

Rear-facing child seats

Rear-facing child restraints are commonly used for children weighing between 0-13kg, preferred by parents of very young or small children to ensure their safety in a moving vehicle [22]. Research suggests that rear-facing seats reduce the risk of death or injury in a crash by up to 90% [23].

These restraint systems are increasingly being equipped to carry older children following the introduction of the I-Size restraint [24].

If a rear-facing child seat is fitted in the front passenger seat it is vitally important that that the driver checks if there is a front passenger seat air bag, and if there is that it is disabled. If an airbag deploys with a rear-facing child restraint in that seat, it is likely that this will result in catastrophic head injuries for the child and could kill them. If the air bag for the front passenger seat cannot be switched off, rear-facing child seats MUST be placed in the rear passenger seats of the vehicle [25].

Rear-facing child seats are generally grouped into three categories, relating to the height or weight of the child [26]:

  • Group 0: Rear-facing child restraints classed as ‘Group 0’ are suitable for children weighing 0-10kg, a figure generally understood to be appropriate for new-born children up until the age of 6-9 months. However, this is not always the case and it is important that parents purchase a car seat on the basis of weight or height, not age, which can be inaccurate.
  • Group +0: Rear-facing child restraints identified as ‘Group +0’ are systems designed to support and protect children weighing between 0-13kg.
  • I-Size: The rear-facing ‘I-size’ restraints determine suitability based on the height of the child as opposed to their weight. I-Size child restraints were developed in response to UN ECE Regulation 129 and are designed to fit in any car. This system is seen by many road safety professionals as the most appropriate way of matching a child to a restraint as parents in particular are more likely to be aware of their child’s height rather than their weight.  

Forward-facing child seats [27]

Forward-facing child seats, also known as Group 1 child seats, are suitable for children weighing between 9-18kg. This is typically understood as referring to children between the ages of 10 months and three to four years old.

Forward-facing child restraints integrate a ‘five-point seatbelt’ to protect the child within the vehicle. Some of these seats are capable of being fitted in both the front passenger seat and the rear passenger seats, however, if the child restraint is fitted in the front of the vehicle, the passenger air bag (if present) MUST be switched off.

Combination seats [28]

These are car seats that can be both forward and rearward facing. Group 0+ and 1 can be used for children weighing between 0-18 kg and Group 0+, 1 and 2 are appropriate for children weighing from 0-25kg.

High-backed booster seats [29]

High-backed booster seats are designed to be suitable for children weighing between 15-25kg, typically aged 4-6 years. Older children can use booster seats, or booster cushions, and those designed for older children (Group 1, 2 and 3) can carry children weighing 9-36kg.

These seats allow the use of the vehicle’s existing three-point seat belt to secure the child safely. Booster seats have a back and provide side protection, giving greater protection if the vehicle is in a side-on collision.

Booster cushions

These are suitable for children 22-36 kg, typically aged 10-12 years. These are cushions that enable the vehicle’s fitted three-point seatbelt to fit across the child’s hips and shoulders. They don’t have the back and sides of a booster seat. [30]

Remember: As of March 2017, new laws will be implemented that prevent manufacturers from developing booster cushions and backless booster seats for use by children shorter than 125cm or weighing less than 22kg [31].

These new regulations will not affect existing models of booster seats, and those currently in use that meet the pre-2017 standards can still be used. [32]

According to TRL, one of the main reasons for this change in regulation is “to ensure that in side impact, a child is either protected by the child restraint or the vehicle restraint system… children under 125cm…will not be positioned in such a way that the vehicle can provide protection and therefore this role must be fulfilled by the child restraint”. [33]

Parents should pay close attention to manufacturer’s labels and instructions when purchasing a booster seat, ensuring that it is appropriate for the child’s height and weight and adheres to the new legislation.

Take action: See our campaign pages and find out how you can get involved.

Fitting child restraints

Child passengers in crashes are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured if the child is not properly restrained in their child seat. Problems in fitting the restraints include loose straps, and children being placed in a restraint too large for them. The ISOFIX system is an attempt to prevent the child restraint being incorrectly fitted within the vehicle and evidence suggests that they have largely been successful in doing this. [34]

A study in 2014 assessed US crash data from collisions involving child car passengers over a five year period. The report found that that properly restrained infants were 12.7 times less likely to present to a trauma centre after a motor vehicle crash. However, the likelihood of traumatic brain injuries in infants involved in a high speed crash was similar among properly restrained and improperly restrained infants. Clearly indicating that effective restraint systems are one aspect of a wider system, and if children are to travel safely we must have safer roads, safer vehicles and safer drivers. [35]  


End notes

[1] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[2] The effectiveness of roads policing strategies, TRL, 2015
[3] Stewart, C. et al., Infant car safety seats and risk of head injury, 2014
[4] Jakkobson, L. et al. Safety for the Growing Child – Experiences from Swedish accident data, 2005
[5] New child car seats, Department for Transport, 2017
[6] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[7] The effectiveness of roads policing strategies, TRL, 2015
[8] Elvik R et al., The handbook of road safety measures, (2nd ed.), 2009
[9] Seat belts: the law, gov.uk, updated 2016
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[10] Regulation No 44 of the Economic Commission for Europe of the United Nations (UN/ECE) — Uniform provisions concerning the approval of restraining devices for child occupants of powerdriven vehicles (‘Child Restraint Systems’), United Nations, 2010
[11] Uniform provisions concerning the approval of enhanced Child Restraint Systems used on board of motor vehicles (ECRS), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulation 129
[12] Child car seats: the law, Department for Transport, 2017
[13] Regulation No 44 of the Economic Commission for Europe of the United Nations (UN/ECE): Uniform provisions concerning the approval of restraining devices for child occupants of power-driven vehicles (‘Child Restraint Systems’), United Nations, 2010
[14] Regulation No 129 of the Economic Commission for Europe of the United Nations (UN/ECE) — Uniform provisions concerning the approval of enhanced Child Restraint Systems used on board of motor vehicles (ECRS), European Commission, 2014
[15] UN Regulation 129 Increasing the safety of children in vehicles: For policy-makers and concerned citizens, UNECE, 2016
[16] Cuerden, R. et al., New UN regulation on child restraint systems – assessment of amendments to the new regulation, front and side impact procedures and Q-Series dummy family injury criteria: Final report, TRL, 2014
[17] Regulation No 44 of the Economic Commission for Europe of the United Nations (UN/ECE): Uniform provisions concerning the approval of restraining devices for child occupants of power-driven vehicles (‘Child Restraint Systems’), European Commission, 2010
[18] Hynd, D. et al, Benefit and Feasibility of a Range of New Technologies and Unregulated Measures in the fields of Vehicle Occupant Safety and Protection of Vulnerable Road Users Final report, European Commission, European Commission, 2015
[19] Ibid
[20] End of life vehicles: average vehicle age, SMMT, 2016
[21] Cuerden, R. et al., New UN regulation on child restraint systems – assessment of amendments to the new regulation, front and side impact procedures and Q-Series dummy family injury criteria: Final report, TRL, 2014
[22] Vehicles: Child restraint systems, the Road Safety Observatory, 2015
[23] Jakkobson, L. et al. Safety for the Growing Child – Experiences from Swedish accident data, 2005
[24] UN Regulation 129 Increasing the safety of children in vehicles: For policy-makers and concerned citizens, UNECE, 2016
[25] The Highway Code: seatbelts and child restraints (Rule 101), Department for Transport, 2016
[26] Vehicles: Child restraint systems, the Road Safety Observatory, 2015
[27] Ibid
[28] Ibid
[29] Ibid
[30] Ibid
[31]New child car seats, Department for Transport, 2017
[32] Ibid
[33] Robinson, T.,Shining a light on the impending changes to car seat legislation, TRL, 2016
[34] Hynd, D. et al,Benefit and Feasibility of a Range of New Technologies and Unregulated Measures in the fields of Vehicle Occupant Safety and Protection of Vulnerable Road Users Final report, European Commission, 2015
[35] Stewart, C. et al.,Infant car safety seats and risk of head injury, 2014

Page updated: March 2017 

Community campaign kit

So, you want to make streets in your area safer for local people, and prevent needless deaths and injuries? This guide to running a community campaign gives you lots of useful advice to get started.

You, your family, and people of all ages in your community have a right to be able to use roads without fear or threat. You can make a big difference by getting together with others and shouting loud and proud about road safety.

Getting improvements for your town or village and helping local people to use roads safely may take time, but it's amazing what can be achieved – and there are lots of examples of communities making big improvements, reducing casualties, and enjoying the benefits of safer streets.

The information and advice given in these pages will help to give your campaign the best possible chance of success.

Setting up a road safety group

Online campaigning

Organising a petition

Holding a demonstration

Getting in the media

Road safety events

Lower speed limits and safer road design

The Brake mascot - Zak the Zebra

If you want to campaign for 20mph in your community, please get in touch with www.20splenty.org for tools and advice.

Stephanie_DaviesThis page is dedicated to the memory of Stephanie Davies, 35, lollipop lady and mother of two, who was knocked down and killed by a bus while on duty outside Seedley Primary School in Liverpool Street, Salford.

Stephanie left behind her husband Martin, five year old daughter Anna, and son Adam.

    

 

 

 

 

 

Court cases

Scroll down for information and advice on court cases after a fatal crash.

This includes information about attending court, being a witness, court procedures, appeals, prisoner release, inquests, and having your say about criminal justice.

Attending court

Most criminal cases and appeals are held in public courtrooms. This means that you can attend, although you don't have to unless you are called as a witness (see below). The information below can help you decide if you want to go or not, and help prepare you if you do decide to go.

Witness Care Units provide information and support to victims and witnesses in cases progressing through the criminal justice system. Your Witness Care Unit should tell you the date, location and outcome of any criminal court hearing within one working day of knowing the date themselves. If the police are acting as a single point of contact in your case they would do this instead of the Witness Care Unit. This is stipulated in the government’s Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (2015), Chapter 2.

Support in court

If you decide to attend a court hearing, it may help to have support. Your police contact may be able to come with you. You can also bring friends and family. The court will try to find places for everyone to sit, although maximum numbers will be restricted by seats available.

The Witness Service may be able to help you prepare for court and support you in court. The Witness Service provides emotional support, practical advice and information. It is run by Citizens Advice and is free and confidential. To get help from the Witness Service, call 0300 332 1000 or go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/witness.Your Witness Care Unit or police contact can refer you to the Witness Service or you can refer yourself. For advice on how to access this service, call the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401.

Seeing the accused or their friends around the courthouse

If you were not in the crash, court may be the first place that you see the accused or any of their friends. Many people find this hard. If the accused is on bail, they will be able to use the public areas of the court, such as any cafe. The Witness Service may be able to accompany you if you need to use the same public areas.

It may be possible for you to sit and wait for a court hearing in a quiet room, away from the accused (if they are not remanded in custody) and away from any of their friends. You can ask court staff, or the Witness Service, about this.

Where you can sit in the courtroom

In the courtroom, you and anyone supporting you, as well as friends of the accused and any journalists, can sit in the public gallery. (If you are a witness, you will not be able to sit in the gallery until you have given evidence.)

It may be possible for you to be seated away from the accused’s friends in court. You can ask court staff, or the Witness Service about this.

In court, the accused person is referred to as the defendant. This is because they are defending the case against them.

What you may see and hear, and how you may feel

Evidence is presented in court for the benefit of the judge and jury or magistrates. Sometimes you may not be able to see evidence being discussed (such as diagrams or videos). If you can see evidence, some of it may be particularly upsetting. You may also strongly disagree with one or more things said in court by a lawyer for the defendant, or by a witness.

If you think you may get upset and need to leave the courtroom, you can. You are allowed to leave and re-enter a courtroom quietly. While you are in court, you are required to sit quietly and not talk. People who disturb court proceedings can be asked to leave.

Understanding what is happening in court

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should ensure that someone from the CPS connected with the prosecution of your case is introduced to you at court and answers any of your questions about court procedures. The Government’s Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (2015) (Chapter 2, Part A, section 2.16) requires this. Your police contact can help you arrange this.

Courtroom changes and delays

Sometimes a court building has many courtrooms in it. Sometimes the courtroom in which your case will be heard changes. Sometimes the start time of a hearing is delayed or a hearing is postponed to another day. Your police or CPS contact should be able to keep you up to date with what is happening.

If you are asked to be a witness in court

If you are a witness, you will already have given a statement. In some cases, this statement can be used as your evidence in court. In other cases you may have to give evidence in court.

Being a witness in court is a new experience for most people. You should be assigned a witness care officer who can give you information about what will happen and support you. The witness care officer works for the Witness Care Unit, a joint initiative by the CPS and the police. For more information about witness care officers, talk to your police contact.

You can also go to www.gov.ukand type ‘witness’ into the search box for information on being a witness. If you don’t have access to the internet, or need this information in a different language, ask your witness care officer.

Special measures for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses

Witnesses who are vulnerable or feel intimidated may be able to give evidence with the assistance of special measures. These measures include screening (so that you cannot see the defendant and they cannot see you), live television links, hearings in private, use of an intermediary (someone who helps communicate to you questions you are being asked by the  court, and communicate back your answers) and allowing a video-recorded statement to act as evidence at trial.

The court has to follow legal guidelines regarding who is eligible for special measures. If you want to find out if you can use any special measures, talk to your police contact or other Witness Care Unit representative. An application has to be made to the court for use of special measures and the court decides whether they will allow you to use them or not.

The Witness Service may also be able to help you.

Courts where charges are heard

There are three kinds of offences. These are called 'summary' offences, 'indictable' offences and 'either way' offences.

Summary offences are heard at a Magistrates' Court. A Magistrates' Court can sentence offenders to up to six months' imprisonment (or 12 months for more than one offence in some cases) and an unlimited fine. 'Indictable' offences are heard at a Crown Court. A Crown Court can impose more severe sentences.

An ‘either way’ offence can be heard in a Magistrates’ Court or a Crown Court. An ‘either way’ offence will be heard by the Crown Court if a Magistrates’ Court thinks a case is too serious to be dealt with appropriately at the Magistrates' Court. An either way offence will also be heard at a Crown Court if an accused person chooses to have their case heard there.

Preliminary hearings and length of trials

Before the main trial goes ahead, a prosecution may start with one or more short hearings that don’t include witnesses being called. These short hearings have several purposes, including giving the lawyers an opportunity to raise and discuss legal arguments that may affect the case and to discuss the availability of witnesses. The objective of these hearings is to help a trial proceed smoothly without unnecessary delays.

Cases can take longer than expected to come to court. This may be for many reasons, such as a need to trace witnesses or obtain documents prior to a court hearing. Court hearings may also start late, be cut short or be postponed.

Your witness care officer (see above) will be able to explain to you what is likely to happen at a planned hearing and how a case is progressing.

What happens in a Magistrates’ Court?

A case heard in a Magistrates’ Court is usually determined by magistrates. Magistrates are trained volunteers who normally sit in threes with one as chairperson. They sit with a legal adviser who is a qualified lawyer. The legal adviser gives the magistrates advice on points of law and court procedure and records decisions. Magistrates do not wear robes or judicial wigs. In some Magistrates’ Courts there are legally qualified district judges who sit alone.

Magistrates’ Court hearings and trials

The defendant is usually required to appear in court to plead guilty or not guilty. In some cases, someone who is accused of a less serious offence may be given an opportunity to plead guilty by completing a form and posting it to the court rather than attending court. They do not have to appear in court unless the magistrates are considering a driving disqualification.

If the defendant pleads guilty, the magistrates or district judge will hear the facts of the case before sentencing.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, then a date is usually set for a trial and the case is adjourned until that date. Magistrates’ Court trial dates may be set some time ahead to allow lawyers time to prepare. Sometimes trial dates are postponed, occasionally this happens at the last minute.

The people who speak in court for each side are usually lawyers. However, someone called an 'associate prosecutor' may speak on behalf of the CPS. Associate prosecutors are trained to present the CPS's case but are not lawyers. The defendant may choose to speak for themselves.

The person speaking for the CPS presents the evidence against the defendant. The person speaking for the defendant then presents their case.

Both sides may call witnesses to give evidence, such as police crash investigation officers and eye witnesses. Photographs, videos and diagrams may be shown. Both sides can ask questions or put statements to witnesses who have been called by either side. The magistrates can also ask witnesses questions.

If both sides agree in advance of the trial that a written statement given by a witness is not going to be challenged in court, then that witness may not be required to attend court, and their written evidence may be read out instead. The defendant can choose not to give evidence. If they do give evidence, they can also be questioned.

After all of the evidence has been presented, the lawyers for both sides make closing speeches. The person speaking for the CPS will speak first. The magistrates, or district judge, then consider their verdict. If found guilty, the offender is sentenced (see below).

Magistrates’ Courts are sometimes held in buildings which serve other uses, such as town halls.

What happens in the Crown Court?

Most cases heard in the Crown Court are determined by judges and juries. The judge decides on matters of law and the sentence if a defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty after a trial. The judge and the lawyers who present evidence in the Crown Court wear robes and some wear judicial wigs.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, their guilt or innocence is determined at trial by jury. A jury is made up of 12 members of the community, chosen at random from the electoral register. A jury will be directed by the judge to try to reach a unanimous verdict, meaning all jurors reach the same verdict. However, in some cases judges allow a jury to reach a majority verdict with 10 of the 12 jurors in agreement.

Crown Court hearings and trials

Before a Crown Court hearing takes place, the defendant must appear at least once in a Magistrates’ Court, where the charge is read out. If the charge is an ‘either way’ offence and is to be heard in the Crown Court the defendant may appear twice in the Magistrates’ Court before the case moves to the Crown Court. Sometimes, it is decided that a case can be heard entirely in the Magistrates’ Court. Sometimes, a case is heard in the Magistrates' Court but sentencing takes place in the Crown Court.

A first hearing at Crown Court should take place about four weeks after the Magistrate's Court appearance if the defendant has pleaded not guilty. If the defendant has pleaded guilty to an 'either way' offence (see above) in the Magistrate's Court, the sentencing hearing in the Crown Court should take place after about three weeks.

At the first Crown Court hearing, the defendant usually says whether they are pleading guilty or not guilty. However, sometimes the judge will set a date for this to happen at a second hearing.

If the defendant pleads guilty the judge will sentence them (see below). This may be at a later date. If the defendant pleads not guilty a date is set for a trial. A trial date may be many weeks or months ahead. Sometimes, additional hearings take place before a trial so lawyers and the judge can discuss certain legal matters.

At a Crown Court trial the evidence for the prosecution is presented by a barrister or crown advocate. Barristers and crown advocates are lawyers who specialise in presenting cases in court. A barrister usually speaks for the defendant.

The lawyers present evidence to the judge and jury to support their cases. Photos, videos and diagrams may be shown to the jury. The lawyers may read statements from witnesses and call witnesses to give evidence in court, such as police crash investigation officers and eye witnesses.

The lawyers representing either side, and the judge, can ask any witness questions. The defendant can choose not to give evidence.

After the evidence has been presented the lawyers make closing speeches. Then the judge sums up. The jury retires to consider its verdict. If the verdict is guilty, the judge considers the sentence. See below for information on verdicts and sentencing.

Youth Courts

Youth Courts deal with young people aged between 10 and 17 charged with criminal offences. Youth Courts are part of Magistrates’ Courts. Up to three specially-trained magistrates or a district judge hear a case. If a young person is charged with an offence which, in the case of an adult, is punishable with 14 years’ imprisonment or more, the Youth Court can send them to the Crown Court for trial or sentence.

Youth Court hearings are not open to the public and you can only attend if you have been given permission by the magistrates.

If a young person is aged between 15 and 21 and found guilty, they may, if the court considers the offence serious enough, be sent to a Young Offenders Institution (YOI). A YOI is a secure facility like a prison – inmates cannot leave until they are released. Alternatively, they may be sent to a Secure Children’s Home (if aged between 10 and 16) or a Secure Training Centre (if aged between 12 and 17).

For more information, go to www.gov.ukand search for 'youth justice board'.

The Verdict

At trial, there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and, in some cases, guilty of a lesser offence. Sometimes, no verdict can be reached. In this case, a retrial often happens. Sometimes during a trial the defendant changes their plea. They might decide to plead guilty after previously pleading not guilty. Or they might decide to plead guilty to a lesser offence.

If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant goes free. Even if new evidence emerges against them, they cannot be tried again (except in very rare circumstances and for very serious offences).

Pleas in mitigation and background reports

Before an offender is sentenced, their lawyer will advise the judge or magistrates about any mitigating factors that they think might reduce the sentence, such as an offender’s stated remorse or personal circumstances.

The judge or magistrates may ask for background information about the offender. Sentencing may be delayed to a later date so this background information can be provided and the judge or magistrates can give further thought to the sentence.

Sentencing

Any sentence imposed is decided by the magistrates, district judge or Crown Court judge.

When sentencing, various things may be taken into account, including:

  • any ‘pleas in mitigation’ or the findings of background reports (see above);
  • Victim Personal Statements;
  • whether the offender pleaded guilty or not. If the offender pleaded guilty, then the sentence can be discounted (reduced). The discount depends upon when the offender pleaded guilty but can be between 10% and 33%;
  • the level of sentences in similar cases in the past. This is called ‘case law’;
  • guidelines on sentencing. The Sentencing Council produces official guidance on sentencing that can be found on the website www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk;
  • the powers of the court. The Crown Court can impose much tougher penalties than a Magistrates’ Court. In some cases a Magistrates’ Court may refer a case to the Crown Court for sentencing;
  • whether a fine or community sentence (see below) is appropriate rather than prison.

A court often does not impose the maximum penalty and sometimes imposes a much lower penalty. If you are unhappy with a sentence and wish to make your views known, you can contact the Courts Service (see below). You may also want to contact a road safety charity that campaigns on issues around sentencing.

Community sentences

Sometimes a community sentence, rather than a prison sentence, is given (for adults, this is called a community order, and for youths it is called either a youth rehabilitation order or a referral order). This means an offender has to serve their sentence under supervision in the community.

As part of a youth rehabilitation order, the judge or magistrates can impose a combination of up to 13 different requirements, such as unpaid work on behalf of the community, a curfew or a requirement to attend an offender training course (for example a course on the dangers of drink driving). In a referral order, a panel of people from the local community and youth justice workers agree a programme of work to address the young person’s behaviour. If an offender fails to comply with the requirements of either order they may have to go back to court and may receive a different sentence.

For more information, go to www.gov.ukand search for ‘community sentences'.

Restorative justice

Restorative justice provides an opportunity to meet or communicate with an offender to explain the impact of their crime on you. It also aims to help offenders take responsibility and make amends.

Restorative justice often involves a meeting with an offender, guided by a trained facilitator. Alternatively, it could involve letter correspondence, or audio or video recordings. You will have the opportunity to consider and discuss what will work best for you.

Your involvement in restorative justice is entirely voluntary. If it is offered, you can talk to the facilitator about whether to do it or not. If it is not offered, and you want to consider it, talk to your police contact or visit the Restorative Justice Council at www.restorativejustice.org.ukto find out if it is available in your area.

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (2015) (Chapter 2, part A, section 7) explains that you are entitled to be told about restorative justice if it is available in your area.

Appeals by an offender

Following a criminal case a convicted person may appeal against their conviction or sentence or both. If in custody, they can apply for bail and in some cases may be released while waiting for their appeal.

If the case was heard in a Magistrates’ Court:

A person has a right of appeal against their conviction or sentence in a Magistrates’ Court. This will be heard in the Crown Court by a judge who sits with two magistrates. There is no jury. The Crown Court has the power to quash the conviction or to change the sentence to be more lenient or more severe.

If the case was heard in the Crown Court:

Many appeals against convictions in the Crown Court are not given permission by the courts to go ahead. If an appeal does go ahead, it is heard in the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal may uphold the conviction, change the conviction to a conviction for a different offence, change the sentence to be more lenient or more severe, acquit the person, or order a re-trial.

Appeals by the prosecution

The prosecution has no automatic right to appeal a decision in a Magistrates’ Court. However, in limited circumstances involving an error of law, it may be possible. This appeal is made to the High Court.

The CPS has no power to appeal against a verdict of not guilty in the Crown Court. The CPS can request the Attorney General to consider referring a sentence imposed by the Crown Court for certain serious offences to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the sentence is ‘unduly lenient’. If you think a sentence was too lenient you can also write to the Attorney General (see below) expressing your concerns.

Appeals to the Supreme Court

Either the prosecution or the offender may appeal to the Supreme Court if there is a point of law being questioned that is of general public importance.

When can appeals be lodged?

All appeals must be lodged within 28 days of a sentence being imposed and sometimes sooner.

You are entitled to be informed of any appeals (see Chapter 2, Part A, section 5 of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime). You can ask your police or Witness Care Unit contact whether or not an appeal has been lodged by the offender or the CPS and the progress of an appeal. They can also tell you the date of an appeal, or its outcome.

Challenging a decision through judicial review

A few bereaved families have challenged the Crown Prosecution Service in the High Court for not bringing a serious charge. These challenges have used a process called judicial review. The High Court has the power to rule that the CPS should reconsider bringing a serious charge. This process is very costly unless you can qualify for legal aid.

Will a prisoner serve their whole sentence in prison?

Offenders are usually released from prison before the end of their sentence. The rest of their sentence is served ‘on licence’. An offender ‘on licence’ is supervised in the community by the probation service.

An offender serving a sentence of less than two years will usually have to serve an additional period of ‘post sentence supervision’ after their sentence has expired, also supervised in the community by the probation service.

Offenders who are on licence or serving a period of supervision are required to comply with certain conditions. These may include living at a certain address, a curfew, a requirement not to make contact with you, and compulsory meetings with the probation service. If an offender fails to comply with these conditions or commits another offence they may be given a warning or have to go back to prison.

Some offenders are released early under a special scheme called the Home Detention Curfew Scheme. This scheme requires an offender to remain at a particular address during particular hours and wear an electronic tag to monitor their movements.

Some offenders still in prison may be released for short periods on temporary licence during their prison sentence. This could be for reasons such as to attend a funeral, have medical treatment, or to prepare them for their return to the community. Offenders must return to prison at the end of a temporary licence.

Most offenders are given a ‘standard determinate sentence’, where they must be released on licence after serving half of their sentence in prison. If an offender is considered by the courts to be dangerous and has committed a serious offence, they may be given an ‘extended determinate sentence’ or a ‘life sentence’ where they are likely to serve more, or all, of their sentence in prison. Once released, they are also likely to face longer periods of supervision by the probation service.

Will an offender serve their whole driving disqualification?

Under certain circumstances, an offender who has been disqualified from driving can apply to court to have their disqualification period reduced. This process is normally called a ‘removal of disqualification’ application. An offender can apply to the court for a removal of disqualification after:

  • two years, if the disqualification was for more than two but fewer than four years;
  • half the disqualification period, if the disqualification was for between four and 10 years;
  • five years, if the disqualification was for 10 years or more (including disqualification for life).

The offender must have a good reason for asking for the disqualification to be reduced: for example, if they think the court made a legal mistake or there were reasons they committed the driving offence that the court didn’t take into account. If the court refuses the application, the offender can reapply after three months.

The law sets out the minimum period of a driving disqualification, but courts can impose longer bans, including life bans. Courts are also required to lengthen an offender’s driving disqualification if the offender is spending time in prison.

For more information, visit www.gov.ukand search for 'probation'.

Will I be told when a prisoner is going to be released?

If an offender is sentenced to 12 months or more imprisonment for one or more of a range of certain, serious offences, you will be entitled to receive the Victim Contact Scheme which is operated by the National Probation Service.

The Victim Contact Scheme can inform you, if you wish, about key stages in an offender’s sentence. This could include when an offender is being considered for transfer to an open prison, or if an offender becomes eligible to be considered for release. The scheme is run by specialist victim liaison staff.

The Victim Contact Scheme also gives you an opportunity to give your thoughts about the possible conditions you think should be attached to a prisoner’s release licence. For example, an offender may be released with a condition they do not seek to contact you or other people affected by their offence, and it may be possible, depending on the circumstances and the risk they pose, to have a condition prohibiting the offender from going near your home or place of work.

If you want to find out if you are entitled to this scheme, but have not been contacted about it, contact the National Probation Service on 0300 047 6325, or public.enquiries@noms.gsi.gov.uk. Entitlements are also outlined in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, (2015) Chapter 2, Part A, section 6 (iii).

The Prison Service runs a helpline for people worried about the release of a prisoner or who have received unwanted contact from a prisoner.  Call 0300 060 6699 between 9am and 4pm, Mondays to Fridays. You can also email the National Offender Management Service at victim.helpline@noms.gsi.gov.uk.

Coroners

Coroners are independent judicial officers who investigate violent or unnatural deaths or deaths where the cause is unknown. This is likely to include all road deaths. Coroners have a legal qualification. They are appointed by local authorities with the consent of the Chief Coroner and Lord Chancellor.

The purpose of a coroner’s investigation, which may include an inquest, is to find out who has died and how, when and where they died. A coroner’s investigation cannot apportion criminal blame nor decide if anyone should be punished or receive compensation. These things are decided through criminal proceedings (see above) and civil proceedings.

When a coroner opens an investigation, they will find out the identity of the person who died, and other basic details about what happened.

The coroner is responsible for authorising the release of the body for burial or cremation. Prior to this, and to help find the cause of death, a coroner will often order a post-mortem examination of the body. If, after the post-mortem, the coroner is satisfied that a death was due to natural causes, they will usually end their investigation and not hold an inquest.

If someone is likely to face criminal charges for causing the death, the coroner will usually suspend their investigation until after criminal proceedings have finished. At this stage, the coroner may provide a ‘certificate of the fact of death’ (also known as an interim death certificate). Following any criminal proceedings the coroner can only resume the investigation if they consider that there is a “sufficient reason” for doing so.

In some cases the coroner’s investigation includes an inquest (see below).

Coroners are assisted by coroners’ officers. Part of their role is to give you information, and answer any questions you may have, about the coroner’s investigation. Sometimes this role is carried out by other staff in the coroner’s office. Your police contact can tell you how to contact the coroner’s office.

Inquests

Coroners hold inquests to conduct their investigations. This is a hearing held in public. However, an inquest is unlikely to be held if criminal proceedings are underway and, subsequently, the coroner considers that all relevant evidence was heard as part of those criminal proceedings. An inquest is also unlikely if the cause of death is identified as natural causes.

If an inquest takes place it will be held in a court or another building such as a town hall. It is usually heard by a coroner without a jury. In rare cases a jury is called. This may happen in certain cases that raise issues of public safety, including cases where the police are involved (such as when a fatal crash followed a police pursuit).

If you think a criminal court failed to discuss all the facts relating to why a death happened, you, or a solicitor representing you, can ask the coroner to consider continuing with their investigation and inquest. The coroner will decide whether they should do this or not. If the coroner continues with the investigation and inquest after criminal proceedings have concluded, they are not permitted to make a finding that contradicts a finding in the criminal court.

At an inquest, witnesses are usually called to give evidence. The coroner will decide who should give evidence. This may include the police, medical staff, expert witnesses and eyewitnesses. Contributions may also be allowed by a relative or friend of the person who has died. There may be particular people who you, or a solicitor representing you, think are important witnesses. If so, you or your solicitor can suggest these people to the coroner. Anyone who may face, or who has faced, a criminal charge in connection with your case can be required to attend the inquest and be sworn in as a witness and face questions, although they have the right not to answer questions that may incriminate them.

Once witnesses have given evidence to the coroner, they may also be questioned by other people, known as ‘interested persons’. This could be you, or someone else close to the person who died, or a solicitor representing you. All questions must be about the facts of the death. The coroner will decide whether a question is relevant.

A coroner may also allow a lawyer representing someone accused of a criminal offence in connection with the crash to ask a witness questions about the facts of the death.

The coroner, or the jury if there is one, will then reach a conclusion that states who died, and where, when and how they died. Possible ‘short-form’ conclusions include unlawful killing, accident, road traffic collision or natural causes. Where the facts do not fit one of the short-form conclusions, the coroner or jury may give a narrative conclusion, setting out the facts surrounding the death in more detail and explaining the reasons for the conclusion.

A conclusion of ‘road traffic collision’ or ‘accident’ may sometimes be reached in a case even though someone else may have caused the death. This can be upsetting but criminal charges may still be brought and you may still be able to pursue a claim for compensation.

If a coroner believes action should be taken to prevent future deaths, they must write a ‘Report to Prevent Future Deaths’ in which they outline road safety concerns that arose during an inquest. This is something they are required to do under the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013. They send this report to any relevant organisation or individual who may be able to address these issues. The coroner cannot force anyone to take steps to prevent future deaths, but anyone sent a ‘Report to Prevent Future Deaths’ is required to respond in writing. You can ask the coroner to provide you with a copy of any ‘Report to Prevent Future Deaths’ and responses they receive.

The reports and responses are sent to the Chief Coroner, and may be published on www.judiciary.gov.uk(search for ‘prevention of future deaths summary’).

You may wish to ask the coroner’s officer if a 'Report to Prevent Future Deaths' is being written, who it is going to, and if you can see it.

Attending an inquest

Inquests are public hearings you can attend if you want to. You may wish to, and are allowed to, have legal representation at an inquest (see above).

The coroner’s office should inform all interested persons (which includes the next of kin) of the date, time and venue of an inquest. If you are not told, you can ask the coroner’s office.

For most people, attending an inquest is a new experience. You may wish to familiarise yourself with the courtroom in advance by visiting it. The coroner’s office can arrange this.

Before an inquest, you, or a solicitor acting on your behalf, can request to see documents such as reports that are going to be presented at an inquest, to help you, or your solicitor, prepare for the inquest. You are allowed to see relevant documents but sometimes a coroner decides a document cannot be shared for legal reasons.

During the inquest, technical terms may be used. Coroners should try to explain terms so everyone can understand what is being discussed. You may find some evidence upsetting, for example descriptions of injuries or photographs. If you get upset during an inquest, you can leave the courtroom at any time. If you leave, the coroner may be prepared to adjourn the inquest for a short time to allow you to recover and so you do not miss any part of the inquest.

After an inquest is over, it is possible for you, or your solicitor, to obtain a recording of the hearing, for a fee. If you didn’t attend the inquest, you may want to ask the coroner’s officer what the recording contains, in case there is anything you don’t want to hear because it may distress you.

Because inquests are held in public, someone who may have caused the death, and their family or friends, may also attend. Journalists may attend and report on what happens and ask to talk to you. You may wish to ask family or friends to attend the inquest with you for support. The coroner’s office can tell you how many seats will be available and reserve seats at the front of the courtroom for you.

A guide to the coroner investigation process, including the inquest, is available at www.gov.uk(search for 'guide to coroner services'). The guide also sets out the standards you can expect to receive from a coroner’s office and what to do if you feel those standards have not been met. This guide can also be downloaded from www.brake.org.uk/support.

The Coroners’ Courts Support Service is a charity that provides volunteers in some coroners’ courts. These volunteers offer emotional and practical support for bereaved people facing an inquest, and can offer guidance on procedures in the court. To find out in which courts they offer this service, call 0300 111 2141 (Mondays to Fridays between 9am and 5pm), or go to www.coronerscourtssupportservice.org.uk.

Having your say about criminal justice

If you have a comment or a concern about the criminal justice system you have a right to be heard and your point of view considered. Speaking up may also help improve criminal justice in the future.

You may have one or more points you wish to raise with one or more criminal justice organisations. Your first step should be to decide which organisation you need to contact. Police forces are responsible for police family liaison and criminal investigations.

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for bringing prosecutions. The Courts and Tribunal Service is responsible for what happens in court (see above), although it is worth remembering that decisions by magistrates and judges can only be challenged by appeal (see above). The Prison Service is responsible for what happens to an offender (see above).

Your next step is to find out the complaint policy of the organisation you want to contact. Different organisations have different complaint policies, and these policies explain how to have your say. You can usually find an organisation’s complaint policy on their website, or ask a local official who works for that organisation to give you a copy.

A complaint policy usually asks you to submit comments in writing. It should explain who will respond (usually a complaints officer or someone close to your case) and how quickly. Whoever responds should aim to address your comments to your satisfaction.

If you would prefer a meeting, this may or may not be possible or appropriate depending on the complaint policy of the organisation, their resources, and the nature of your comments.

Code of Practice for Victims

When preparing your comments, it is a good idea to read the government's Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, and other codes that set standards for criminal justice organisations to enable them to better meet victims' needs. Read the latest versions of these codes at www.brake.org.uk/support.

If you are not satisfied with a response you receive

Complaint policies usually explain steps you can take if you are not satisfied with a response. Usually, this includes giving you the chance to have your comments considered by someone else, such as someone more senior.

If you are still not satisfied with another response you receive, a complaint policy may give you further opportunities, such as having your comments reconsidered by a specialist team, or by the boss of the organisation. There may also be an opportunity to have your comments considered by an independent agency. For example, the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates complaints about the police.

Having your say to the government

Criminal justice organisations are set up and regulated by the government, and are the responsibility of particular government departments and their ministers, elected by you.

If you feel your concerns have not been answered by a criminal justice organisation and you wish the relevant minister to know your concerns, you have a right to contact that minister. The Lord Chancellor is responsible for matters of justice, the Attorney General is the government’s chief legal advisor, and the Home Secretary is responsible for law and order issues. Any criminal justice organisation can confirm for you which government minister they report to, in which department, and how to contact that minister.

You may choose to contact a minister directly, or through your MP. You or your MP can also contact the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who is responsible for investigating complaints about government departments. For more information go to www.ombudsman.org.ukor call 0345 015 4033.

You may also wish to join one of several organisations campaigning for criminal justice in road death cases.

Seeking help to have your voice heard

If you are not sure how to have your voice heard, or you need help preparing what you want to say, call the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401. Its officers are experienced in helping you to get your thoughts across to the most appropriate people.


Click to go to the next section of this guide: Can I claim compensation? or to go to the contents page.

Court cases

Scroll down for information and advice on attending court; being a witness in court; court procedures; appeals; prisoner release; inquests; the Criminal Justice System

Attending court

Most criminal cases and appeals are held in public courtrooms. This means that you can attend, although you don’t have to unless you are called as a witness. The information below can help you decide if you want to go or not, and help prepare you if you do decide to go.

The Procurator Fiscal or Victim Information and Advice should inform the nearest relative of the dates of any court hearings in writing. If you don’t hear anything and you want to know if a court hearing is happening soon, talk to your police or VIA contact.

In certain circumstances, you may also have the right to request information about the progress of the case. Guidance on what information can be obtained, who can make a request, and how to make a request, can be found in the document Access to Information Protocol - A Guide for Victims and Witnesses, available at www.copfs.gov.uk.

Support in court

If you decide to attend a court hearing, it may help to have support. Your police contact may be able to come with you. You can also bring friends and family. The court will try to accommodate you, although there may be restrictions on space.

You can also access information and support from the two services listed below.

Victim Information and Advice can help you understand procedures in court and what happens in your case. An officer from VIA can meet you when you attend court. They won’t sit in court with you, but the Witness Service (see below) can provide support throughout a trial. Your VIA officer will aim to be present in court for any plea or verdict, so they can explain it to you afterwards.

Victim Support Scotland is a charity, supported by The Scottish Government, providing emotional and practical advice and support to victims and witnesses of crime. This help is free and confidential. Victim Support Scotland provides the Witness Service, available in every High Court and Sheriff Court, and also to children and vulnerable witnesses in the Justice of the Peace Court. Staff and trained volunteers support you through the process of attending court and, if you are a witness, giving evidence.

They are also able to arrange an accompanied visit to the court before the hearing, so you can familiarise yourself with a court room and court facilities. Many people find this helpful.

The police or your Victim Information and Advice officer will be able to put you in touch with Victim Support’s Witness Service. Alternatively, call the Victim Support Scotland Witness Service helpline on 0345 603 9213.

Seeing the accused or their friends around the courthouse

If you were not in the crash, court may be the first place that you see the accused or any of their friends. Many people find this hard. If the accused is on bail, they will be able to use the public areas of the court, such as any cafe.

It may be possible for you to sit and wait for a court hearing in a quiet room, away from the accused (if they are not remanded in custody) and away from any of their friends. You can ask court staff, or your Witness Service contact, if you have one, about this.

Where you can sit in the court room

In the courtroom, you and anyone supporting you, as well as friends of the accused and any journalists, can sit in the public gallery. (If you are a witness, you will not be able to go in until you have given evidence.) VIA or the Witness Service may be able to arrange for you to sit in a different part of the gallery to any friends of the accused. 

In court, the person being prosecuted is referred to as ‘the accused’. The more formal term ‘the panel’ is also occasionally used.

What you may see and hear, and how you may feel

Evidence is presented in court for the benefit of the justice of the peace, sheriff, judge and/or jury. Sometimes you may not be able to see evidence being discussed (such as diagrams or videos). If you can see evidence, some of it may be particularly upsetting. You may also strongly disagree with one or more things said in court by a lawyer for the accused.

If you think you may get upset and need to leave the courtroom, you can. You are allowed to leave and re-enter a courtroom quietly. While you are in court, you are required to sit quietly and not talk.

Understanding what is happening in court

When the court has breaks, for example at lunchtime, VIA will aim to answer any of your questions about what is happening in court.

Court room changes and delays

Sometimes a court building has many courtrooms in it. Sometimes the courtroom in which your case will be heard changes. Sometimes, the start time of a hearing is delayed or a hearing is postponed to another day. VIA will aim to keep you up to date with what is happening.

If you are asked to be a witness in court

In certain cases a person who is bereaved by a road crash may be ‘cited’ as a witness to give evidence in court (asked to be a witness in court). If you are, the Procurator Fiscal will give you a letter and booklet called Being a witness. You may be eligible for special measures to help you give evidence (see below). You can download the Being a witness booklet from www.copfs.gov.uk.

Special measures for witnesses

Being a witness in court is a new experience for most people. As a witness, you may feel vulnerable for reasons to do with the circumstances of the case, the evidence you have to give, or your health or age. You may feel so distressed at the thought of giving evidence that you feel vulnerable.

You can discuss any concerns you have with the person who cited you or your VIA officer. They can give you information about the court process and support arrangements to help you be better prepared for giving evidence. They can also discuss your circumstances and whether to make an application to the court for ‘special measures’ to help you give evidence.

Special measures generally apply to:

• all witnesses under the age of 18;

• adult witnesses where there is a significant risk that the quality of their evidence will be affected (diminished) because of mental disorder, fear or distress in connection with giving evidence, or where there is significant risk of harm to a person as a result of them giving evidence.

The standard special measures (which are automatically available for those under 18, and at the discretion of the court for others) are:

• screens, so you cannot see the accused, and they cannot see you directly (although they will be able to see you on a monitor);

• using a live television link so you can give evidence away from the courtroom; and

• having a supporter to keep you company before you give evidence and provide a reassuring presence in the courtroom while you give evidence. (They can’t discuss your evidence with you. If they are also a witness in the case, they can’t support you until they have given evidence.)

Further special measures (allowed at the discretion of the court) are:

• using a statement you have already given as your main evidence. This is a video or audio interview between you and the police, or a written statement you gave before the trial. It will be played or read out in court and you will be asked questions about what you said;

• having your evidence taken by a ‘commissioner’ (a judge or sheriff) appointed by the court. This means giving your evidence in the same way as you would in a trial, but at a different time or place. The evidence you give will be recorded and played at the trial;

• closing the court while you are giving evidence, which means that only certain officials, and those permitted by the court, are allowed to be present.

These special measures may be used on their own or in combination. The accused can lodge objections to the use of special measures, which the court will have to take into account when considering an application. However, the accused cannot object to the standard special measures that a child witness is automatically entitled to use.

The person who cited you as a witness or VIA will be able to tell you how special measures might apply to you. They can let you have a booklet that explains these measures in more detail. They can also show you a CD-ROM or DVD about going to court, who you are likely to meet there and what they do, and how the special measures work.

Further information on special measures can be found on the Scottish Government website www.mygov.scot.

If you are required to give evidence in court, advice and support is available from VIA and the Witness Service (see above).

Preliminary hearings and intermediate diets

Before the main trial goes ahead, a prosecution may start with one or more short hearings that don't usually include witnesses being called. These short hearings have several purposes, including giving the lawyers an opportunity to raise and discuss legal arguments that may affect the case and to discuss the availability of witnesses. The objective of these hearings is to help a trial proceed smoothly without unnecessary delays. These hearings are called a preliminary hearing (in the High Court) or a first diet (in a Sheriff Court under solemn procedure) or an intermediate diet (in a Sheriff or Justice of the Peace Court under summary procedure).

What happens in a Sheriff Court or the High Court?

Serious criminal charges following a death on the road are heard in a Sheriff Court or the High Court. The most serious charges are heard in the High Court. If an accused person pleads guilty to a charge, the sheriff (in a Sheriff Court) or the judge (in the High Court) passes sentence, or chooses to sentence at a later date.

If an accused person pleads not guilty, then the case will go to trial. High Court trials are heard in front of a jury of 15 members of the public. Sheriff Court trials are sometimes heard in front of a jury. If a trial is being held in front of a jury (called solemn procedure), and if it takes more than a day, then the trial is likely to occur on consecutive days.

If a trial is being heard without a jury (called summary procedure) and it takes more than a day, it may be heard on several days spaced over several weeks. Summary procedures are often held in a Sheriff Court, sometimes before a judge known as a summary sheriff.

The prosecutor presents the evidence against the accused person. In the Sheriff Court, the Procurator Fiscal is the prosecutor. In the High Court, an official known as the Advocate Depute is the prosecutor.

A defence lawyer presents the evidence for the accused person. Both sides may call witnesses to give evidence. Witnesses may include eyewitnesses and expert witnesses such as police crash investigators.

Both sides may present physical evidence, such as photographs or diagrams. The Procurator Fiscal, the defence lawyer, and the sheriff or judge can all question witnesses. The accused person can choose not to give evidence. After the evidence has been presented, the Procurator Fiscal and the defence lawyer give speeches to sum up the evidence.

These speeches are intended to help the jury (or the sheriff if there isn’t a jury) decide whether the accused is guilty. If there is a jury, the sheriff or judge will also give a speech on the law to help the jury to reach a decision. For a guilty verdict, there must be at least eight votes for guilty.

To get a guilty verdict, it is up to the Procurator Fiscal to prove the case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

After the verdict has been decided, the sheriff or judge then decides the sentence, or chooses to sentence at a later date (see below). Sometimes a sheriff believes the accused should receive a higher sentence than they are able to impose in a Sheriff Court, and refers the accused to the High Court for sentencing.

What happens in a Justice of the Peace Court?

Less serious criminal charges are heard in Justice of the Peace Courts. In many instances Justice of the Peace Courts are held in buildings that also house a Sheriff Court.

Charges in Justice of the Peace Courts are heard by a Justice of the Peace (a trained member of the public) who sits with a legally-qualified clerk. Procedures in a Justice of the Peace Court are similar to those in a Sheriff Court (see above). There is no jury.

If an accused person pleads guilty, the Justice of the Peace decides the sentence. If an accused person pleads not guilty, the case goes to trial and the verdict and sentence (if the verdict is guilty) is decided by the Justice of the Peace.

Justices of the Peace have different sentencing powers to judges and sheriffs. Justices of the Peace can impose fines of up to £2,500 or prison sentences of up to 60 days.

Victim Information and Advice will be able to explain to you what is likely to happen at a planned hearing, how a case is progressing and the reasons for any delays.

If the accused is under the age of 16

If a child under the age of 16, or aged 16 or 17 and under the supervision of the Children’s Hearings System, is charged with certain offences, they may be considered for prosecution by the Procurator Fiscal. Alternatively, their case may be referred to a Children’s Reporter who works for an organisation called the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration.

When deciding what to do about a child or young person, the Reporter has three options. They can:

• arrange a Children’s Hearing, heard in front of three trained volunteers from the community;

• refer the case to the local authority to work with the young person to deal with the offending behaviour; or .

• decide not to arrange a Children’s Hearing nor refer the case.

Go to www.scra.gov.uk for more information for victims of youth crime.

The verdict

At trial, there are three verdicts open to the judge or jury: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. If the verdict is not guilty or not proven, the accused goes free and cannot usually be tried on the same charge again. However, in certain very serious cases, if important new evidence emerges, it may be possible for a retrial to occur (under the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011).

Sometimes an accused person changes their plea to guilty during a trial. Sometimes they plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Sometimes an accused person who is tried for a serious charge is found not guilty of that charge, but guilty of a lesser charge.

Pleas in mitigation and background reports

Before an accused person is sentenced, their lawyer will advise the judge about any mitigating factors that they think might reduce the sentence, such as an offender’s stated remorse.

The judge may also ask for background information about the offender. This is required if the offender hasn’t been to prison before, or is under the age of 21 (this age requirement does not apply for the offence of murder), or is serving a community sentence. Sentencing may be delayed until a later date so this background information can be provided and the judge can give further thought to the sentence.

Sentencing

Any sentence imposed is decided by the judge, sheriff, summary sheriff or Justice of the Peace. Before an offender is sentenced, their lawyer will state any mitigating factors they think might reduce the sentence, such as an offender’s remorse or personal circumstances.

Background information about the offender may also be sought by the court, such as any medical issues or whether the offender already has a criminal record. Sentencing may be delayed while this information is obtained.

When sentencing, various things may be taken into account, including:

• ‘pleas in mitigation’ or the findings of background reports (see above);

• victim statements;

• whether the offender pleaded guilty or not. If the offender pleaded guilty, then the sentence can be discounted (reduced). The discount depends on when the offender pleaded guilty, but can be up to a third of the sentence that would have been imposed if the case had gone to trial. A discount can also apply to driving disqualifications and the imposition of penalty points;

• the level of sentences in similar cases in the past. This is called ‘case law’;

• guidelines on sentencing. The Scottish Sentencing Council gives official guidance on sentencing at www.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk;

• the powers of the court. Different courts can sentence up to different levels. Government can change these levels over time. To find out the maximum sentence that a court can impose, talk to your VIA officer;

• whether a warning, community sentence (see below) or fine are appropriate rather than prison. In exceptional circumstances, when a person is guilty of a charge, the judge can decide to discharge the person. This means no penalty is imposed on more serious cases (indictment) and no conviction is recorded in less serious (summary) cases. This is called an ‘absolute discharge’.

A court will rarely impose the maximum penalty and sometimes imposes a much lower penalty. If you don’t understand the basis for a sentencing decision, talk to your VIA officer or the Procurator Fiscal.

Community sentences

Sometimes an offender is given a community sentence rather than a prison sentence, meaning they have to serve their sentence in their community. An offender may be given a Community Payback Order which could require them to do one or more different things including:

• up to 300 hours of unpaid work in the community;

• attending a programme to address the underlying causes of their offending; More information about community sentences is available on www.gov.scot. Further information on sentences is available from www.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk;

• paying money (in compensation) to those affected by their offence;

• following directions from the court to do, or refrain from doing, specified things; and

• being subject to supervision by a criminal justice social worker.

If the offender has mental health, drug or alcohol abuse problems and was sentenced in a Sheriff Court or High Court, there can also be a requirement that they receive supervised treatment and their progress over time can be reviewed.

An offender may also be given a Restriction of Liberty Order which means they are electronically tagged and required to remain in a named place for a number of hours a day for up to a year. An offender can also be restricted from being in a particular place or places as part of a Restriction of Liberty Order.

More information about community sentences is available on www.gov.scot. Further information on sentences is available from www.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk.

Appeals by an offender

Following a criminal case an offender may appeal against their conviction or sentence or both. If the offender pleaded guilty, they can only appeal against their sentence.

If the offender is in prison when they appeal, they can also apply for bail and in some cases may be released while waiting for the appeal. This is called ‘interim liberation’.

Almost all appeals from summary proceedings in a Sheriff Court or Justice of the Peace Court are heard by judges in the Sheriff Appeal Court in Edinburgh. Appeals from solemn proceedings are heard by judges in the High Court in Edinburgh (known as the Court of Criminal Appeal).

Two judges sit to hear an appeal against sentence. Three judges sit to hear an appeal against conviction. If the offender is appealing against their sentence alone, the court may confirm the original sentence or impose a different sentence (which may be higher or lower).

If the offender is disputing their guilt, the court may consider points of law that the offender thinks were not properly considered at the original trial. The court decides whether to uphold or quash the conviction. If the court upholds the conviction, the sentence is not revisited. If the appeal is allowed, the court may acquit the offender, convict them of a lesser charge, or order a retrial.

Appeals by the prosecution

The prosecution can appeal against a sentence, but only where it considers the sentence to be ‘unduly lenient’. If you are unhappy with a sentence passed, tell the Procurator Fiscal as soon as possible. They can tell you whether they plan to lodge an appeal.

The prosecution cannot usually appeal against a ‘not guilty’ or ‘not proven’ verdict.

When can appeals be lodged?

n solemn procedure cases, an accused is required by law to lodge a notice of intention to appeal within two weeks. In summary procedure cases, appeals must be lodged within one week. The High Court has the power to extend these periods.

Appeals against a sentence by the prosecution must be lodged within 28 days.

If you are the nearest relative, Victim Information and Advice should tell you if there is an appeal. They can tell you if someone is granted bail before an appeal, the date of an appeal, its progress and its outcome. You can attend all appeals and take friends, family or support workers.

Will a prisoner serve their whole sentence?

Prisoners are usually released from prison before the end of their sentence. This is called ‘automatic early release’. The rest of their sentence is served ‘on licence’. An offender on licence is supervised in the community by the probation service.

Some offenders are released earlier under a special scheme called the Home Detention Curfew Scheme. This scheme requires an offender to remain at a particular address during particular hours and wear an electronic tag to monitor their movements.

Some offenders may be released for short periods on temporary licence during their prison sentence. This could be for reasons such as to attend a funeral, have medical treatment, or to prepare them for their return to the community. Prisoners must return to prison at the end of a temporary licence. For prisoners sentenced to under two years in prison before 1 February 2016, the prisoner will be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence, if they are still in prison at that point.

For prisoners sentenced to under two years in prison on or after 1 February 2016, the prisoner will be released when they have six months left on their sentence, if they are still in prison at that point.

If a prisoner is sentenced to between two and four years in prison, they will be released after serving half their sentence. If a prisoner is sentenced to four or more years in prison, they may be released after serving half their sentence.

This is called ‘discretionary early release’. The Parole Board for Scotland decides whether or not to release a prisoner at this stage, and any conditions attached to their release. If the Parole Board for Scotland decides a prisoner should stay imprisoned, the prisoner can have early release considered again at a later date.

To release a prisoner before their full term, the Parole Board must be satisfied that the prisoner no longer presents an unacceptable risk to public safety.

It considers factors including:

• nature and circumstances of the offence;

• conduct while imprisoned;

• likelihood of committing an offence if released; and

• what the prisoner intends to do when released.

Offenders who are released on licence are required to comply with certain rules. These may include living at a certain address, a curfew, a requirement not to make contact with you, and compulsory meetings with the probation service. If an offender is released and they break a condition of their release (for example, if they commit another driving offence), they may have to go back to prison. The court can also impose an additional punishment on the offender when sentencing them for the new offence committed while on early release.

Will an offender serve their whole driving disqualification?

Under certain circumstances, an offender who has been disqualified from driving can apply to the court that imposed the disqualification to have the remaining period of disqualification removed. This process is normally called a ‘removal of disqualification’ application. An offender can apply to the court for a removal of disqualification after:

• two years, if the disqualification was for more than two but fewer than four years;

• half the disqualification period, if the disqualification was for between four and 10 years;

• five years, if the disqualification was for 10 years or more (including disqualification for life).

The court will take into account the offender’s reasons for the application, and consider information from the police about the offender’s behaviour since the disqualification was imposed. If the court refuses the application, the offender can reapply after three months.

For more information about the Parole Board for Scotland, go to www.scottishparoleboard.gov.uk.

The Victim Notification Scheme

Up to four close relatives of a person who died can choose whether or not they want to register with the Victim Notification Scheme. This scheme has two parts and you can choose to register for either or both parts.

Part one entitles you to information about:

• when the prisoner is to be released;

• the date of their death if they die before being released;

• the date of any transfer to a place outside Scotland;

• their eligibility for temporary release (for example, for training programmes or home leave);

• the escape or abscond of the prisoner; and

• their return to prison under certain circumstances.

Part two entitles you to put in writing your thoughts to the Parole Board for Scotland if the prisoner is being considered for release on parole; or to the Scottish Prison Service if the prisoner is being considered for release on Home Detention Curfew (sometimes known as tagging) or temporary release. Your thoughts should be taken into account when decisions are being made regarding any conditions imposed on the prisoner’s release (for example, if the prisoner must not contact you). You should be informed of any conditions that affect you. If the prisoner is serving a life sentence and being considered for release, there is also the opportunity to make your thoughts known in a meeting with the Parole Board for Scotland.

If you are eligible for the scheme the Crown Office should get in touch with you to ask if you want to register for it. You can choose to opt in, or out, of this scheme at any time prior to the prisoner being due for release.

If the offender has been sentenced to less than 18 months in prison, you are only entitled to receive information about the release or escape of the offender. You can write to the Scottish Prison Service and ask them to provide you with this information - go to www.sps.gov.uk for details.

You can find out more about the Victim Notification Scheme from the Scottish Prison Service on 01387 261 218 or at www.sps.gov.uk. There is a leaflet about the scheme on the website www.mygov.scot. 

Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAI)

A Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) is a public hearing in front of a sheriff, usually at the Sheriff Court nearest to where the death happened.

Will an FAI happen in my case?

An FAI can be held following a road death. The purpose of an FAI is to establish the circumstances of a death, and consider what steps might be taken to prevent other deaths in similar circumstances.

An FAI will be held into all deaths resulting from ‘accidents in the course of employment or occupation’. An FAI may also be held ‘where a death was sudden, suspicious or unexplained, or occurred in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern and where it appears to the Lord Advocate to be in the public interest to hold an inquiry into the circumstances’. This is called a ‘discretionary’ FAI.

An FAI may be considered if, for example, a death on the road raised particular concerns about public safety, for example, if poor road layout or road signage contributed to a crash. An FAI will be held if someone died in a crash while working - for example a lorry driver.

Unlike a criminal trial or a civil case, an FAI's purpose is to determine what caused a death and to prevent further deaths or injuries. It is not to apportion blame, punish, or seek compensation.

If criminal proceedings sufficiently established what happened, it may be decided that an FAI is unnecessary.

Who decides if an FAI should be held?

If the Procurator Fiscal considers that there should be an FAI, they should have a meeting with the nearest relative. If you are invited to a meeting, you may wish to consult a solicitor (see below) to help you plan what you want to say. The Procurator Fiscal will then prepare a report that includes your views on the holding of an FAI.

This report is then sent to senior lawyers called Crown Counsel. Crown Counsel then decide if there should be an FAI or not. The final decision lies with the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate is responsible for the investigation of deaths and prosecution of crimes in Scotland.

Once Crown Counsel has decided whether or not an FAI will be held, the Procurator Fiscal will advise you of this decision within 14 days. If an FAI is going to be held, the Procurator Fiscal will inform you about its timing. If an FAI is not going to be held, a meeting will be offered to explain why, and the reasons put in writing, unless you don’t want reasons in writing. (You can change your mind and ask for written reasons later on.)

If you are unhappy about the decision to hold, or not hold, an FAI, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed by a senior Crown Counsel not involved in the original decision.

What happens at an FAI?

Police, expert witnesses and eye witnesses may be requested to attend and give evidence to an FAI.

The nearest relative is entitled to participate in an FAI by asking witnesses questions, or instructing a solicitor to do this for them. There are solicitors that specialise in representation at FAIs. Call the Law Society of Scotland on 0131 226 7411. Legal aid may be available to fund the cost of representation.

If you are pursuing a claim for money and there is an FAI, the solicitor handling your claim may wish to attend the FAI. Other interested parties can, with the permission of the sheriff, also participate in the FAI and ask questions or be represented.

The FAI determination

At the end of an FAI the sheriff delivers a decision called a determination. The determination can state:

• where and when the death and crash took place;

• the cause of the death and crash;

• the reasonable precautions that could have prevented the death or crash;

• any defects in any system of working that contributed to the death or crash; and

• any other facts relevant to the death or crash.

The determination may include making recommendations to an individual or group that aim to prevent more deaths happening in the same way. If the individual or group participated in the FAI, they must provide written details of how they will implement the recommendations. If they decide not to follow the recommendations, they must explain why.

Challenging an FAI determination

In certain cases, bereaved people have challenged FAI determinations through a process called judicial review. If you want to find out if this might be possible, you will need to consult a solicitor specialising in judicial reviews.

Having your say about criminal justice

If you have a comment or concern about the criminal justice system, you have a right to be heard and your point of view considered. Agencies welcome your feedback, and speaking up may also help improve criminal justice in the future. For information on making a comment or complaint about the police, go to pirc.scot or call 0808 178 5577.

For information on making a comment or complaint about the Procurator Fiscal or a criminal prosecution go to www.copfs.gov.uk and click on 'comments and complaints' or call 01389 739 557.

For information on making a comment or complaint about the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, go to www.scotcourts.gov.uk.

The Standards of Service for Victims and Witnesses sets out the standards you should expect from the Criminal Justice System with regard to accessing information, receiving support, and participation in proceedings. You can download these standards from www.mygov.scot, or get a copy from your police or VIA contact, the Procurator Fiscal or your local court.

Further information on the standards of service you can expect can be found at www.copfs.gov.uk. As a victim or witness of crime, you have certain rights. The Victims’ Code for Scotland sets out these rights and who to contact for help and advice. You can download this document from www.mygov.scot or get a copy from your police or VIA contact or from the Procurator Fiscal. You can phone 0131 244 4227 to request it in another language.

If you are not happy with a response you receive 

Complaint policies usually explain steps you can take if you are not satisfied with a response. Usually, this includes giving you the chance to have your comments considered by someone else, such as someone more senior.

If you are still not satisfied with another response you receive, a complaint policy may give you further opportunities, such as having your comments considered by a specialist team, or by the boss of the organisation. There may also be an opportunity to have your comments considered by an independent agency. For example, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner investigates complaints about the police.

Having your say to the government

Criminal justice organisations are set up and regulated by the government, and are the responsibility of particular government departments and their ministers, elected by you.

If you feel your concerns have not been answered by a criminal justice organisation and you wish to raise your concerns with the government, you have a right to do this.

Any criminal justice organisation can confirm for you which government minister they report to, in which department, and how to contact that minister.

You may choose to contact a minister directly, or through your MP or MSP.

You can also contact the Scottish Ombudsman, who is responsible for investigation complaints about government departments. For more information go to www.spso.org.uk.

You may also wish to join one of several organisations campaigning for criminal justice in road death cases. 

Seeking help to have your voice heard

If you are not sure how to have your voice heard, or you need help preparing what you want to say, call the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401. Its officers are experienced in helping you to get your thoughts across to the most appropriate people.

Click to go to the next section of this guide: Can I claim compensation or to go to the contents page.

Court Cases

Information and advice on attending court; being a witness in court; court procedures; appeals; prisoner release; inquests; the Criminal Justice System.

Attending court

Criminal cases and appeals are held in public courtrooms. This means that, if you want to, you can attend, although you don’t have to unless you are called as a witness (see below). The information below can help you decide if you want to go or not, and help prepare you if you do decide to go.

Support in court

If you decide to attend a court hearing, it may help to have support. Your police contact may be able to come with you. You can also bring friends and family. The court will try to find places for everyone to sit, although maximum numbers will be restricted by seats available.

The voluntary organisation Victim Support Northern Ireland provides a support service in court called the Witness Service. This service is available to victims of crime aged over 18 attending court. If you are under 18, the Young Witness Service, provided by the children's charity NSPCC, may be able to help. You don’t have to be a witness to use these services. Both services provide trained volunteers who can support you in court and give you information about court procedures and, if you are a witness, support you in giving evidence. They can arrange an accompanied visit to the court before the hearing, to familiarise yourself with court facilities. Many people find this helpful.

For details of your local Witness Service, call Victim Support NI on 028 9024 4039 or go to www.victimsupportni.com. For information on the Young Witness Service, go to www.nspcc.org.uk and search for ‘witness service’.

Seeing the accused or their friends around the courthouse

If you were not in the crash, court may be the first place that you see the accused or any of their friends. Many people find this hard. If the accused is on bail, they will be able to use the public areas of the court, such as any cafe. The Witness Service may be able to accompany you if you need to use the same public areas.

It may be possible for you to sit and wait for a court hearing in a quiet room, away from the accused (if they are not remanded in custody) and away from any of their friends. You can ask court staff or the Witness Service if this is possible.

Where you can sit in the courtroom

In the courtroom, you, and anyone supporting you, as well as friends of the accused and any journalists can sit in the public gallery. (If you are a witness, you will not be able to go in until you have given evidence.)

It may be possible for you to be seated away from the accused’s friends in court. You can ask court staff or the Witness Service about this.

In court, the accused person is referred to as the defendant. This is because they are defending the case against them.

What you may see and hear, and how you may feel

Evidence is presented in court for the benefit of the judge and jury or district judge. Sometimes you may not be able to see evidence being discussed (such as diagrams or videos). If you can see evidence, some of it may be particularly upsetting. You may also strongly disagree with some things said in court by a lawyer for the defendant.

If you think you may get upset and need to leave the courtroom, you can. You are allowed to leave and re-enter a courtroom quietly. While you are in court, you are required to sit quietly and not talk. You should switch off your phone, tablet or other electronic device before you enter the courtroom. You are usually allowed to take notes in court, but sometimes there are legal reasons that prevent this. You should check with court staff before taking notes. You are not allowed to take photos or make sound recordings without the permission of the judge.

Understanding what is happening in court

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) should keep you informed of what is happening at court and answer any questions you have. If you are unsure who to talk to, ask your Witness Service or police contact.

Courtroom changes and delays

Sometimes a court building has many courtrooms in it. Sometimes the courtroom in which your case will be heard changes. Sometimes the start time of a hearing is delayed or a hearing is postponed to another day. Your police, Witness Service or PPS contact should be able to keep you up to date with what is happening.

If you are asked to be a witness in court

If you are a witness, you will have already given a statement. In some cases, this statement can be used as your evidence in court. In other cases, you may have to give evidence in court.

Being a witness in court is a new experience for most people. You can discuss any concerns you have about giving evidence with your Victim and Witness Care Unit case officer. Alternatively, you can talk to Victim Support or, if you are under 18, the NSPCC (see above).

You can also go to www.nidirect.gov.uk and type ‘witness’ into the search box for more information on being a witness.

Your local Witness Service or Young Witness Service should be able to help (see above).

Special measures for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses

Witnesses who are vulnerable or feel intimidated may be able to give evidence with the assistance of special measures.

These measures include screening (so you cannot see the defendant and they cannot see you), live television links, hearings in private, use of an intermediary (someone who helps communicate to you questions you are being asked by the court, and communicate back your answers) and allowing a video-recorded statement to act as evidence at trial.

The court has to follow legal guidelines regarding who is eligible for special measures. If you want to find out if you can use any special measures, talk to your Victim and Witness Care Unit case officer, the PPS or your police contact. The PPS prosecutor has to apply to the court for use of special measures, and the court decides whether they will allow you to use them or not.

Courts where charges are heard

Depending on the charge and the age of the defendant, cases are heard either in a Magistrates' Court or a Crown Court. Each court has different procedures and different sentencing powers.

Less serious offences, known as 'summary offences', are heard in a Magistrates' Court.

More serious offences, known as 'indictable offences', are heard in a Crown Court.

Some offences are known as 'hybrid' offences. The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) will make a decision about which court is the most appropriate to prosecute these offences. The PPS will often choose to prosecute such cases in the Magistrates’ Court but can send a case directly to a higher court. If a hybrid offence is prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court, but the court subsequently thinks the case, because of its seriousness, cannot be dealt with adequately at this level, it can send the case up to a Crown Court.

Preliminary hearings and length of trials

Before the main trial goes ahead, a prosecution may start with one or more short hearings that don't include witnesses being called. These short hearings have several purposes, including giving the lawyers an opportunity to raise and discuss legal arguments that may affect the case and discuss the availability of witnesses. The objective of these hearings is to help a trial proceed smoothly without unnecessary delays.

Cases can take longer than expected to come to court. This may be for many reasons, such as a need to trace witnesses or obtain documents prior to a court hearing. Court hearings may also start late, be cut short or be postponed.

Your Victim and Witness Care Unit case officer will be able to explain to you what is likely to happen at a planned hearing and how a case is progressing.

What happens in a Magistrates’ Court?

A case heard in a Magistrates' Court is usually determined by a District Judge who is legally qualified.

The judge decides whether the defendant is guilty or not (unless they have pleaded guilty). They decide sentences with the help of guidelines. There is no jury. The judge may wear judicial robes, but does not wear a wig.

Magistrates’ Court hearings and trials

The defendant is required to appear in a Magistrates' Court to plead guilty or not guilty. (The court sometimes allows an adjournment so the defendant can decide their plea.)

If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge will hear the facts of the case before sentencing. The case can be adjourned prior to this to enable background reports to be prepared about the defendant.

If the defendant pleads not guilty then a date is usually set for a trial (this is also known as a ‘contested hearing’ or ‘contest’) and the case is adjourned until that date. Magistrates' Court trial dates may be set some time ahead to allow lawyers time to prepare. Sometimes trial dates are postponed, occasionally this happens at the last minute.

The lawyers who speak in court for each side are either barristers or solicitors. Barristers specialise in speaking in court. Solicitors may also speak in court. This often happens in a Magistrates' Court. The defendant may choose to speak for themself.

The lawyer for the PPS presents evidence against the defendant. The lawyer defending the defendant then presents their case.

Both sides may call witnesses to give evidence, such as police crash investigation officers and eye witnesses. Photographs, videos and diagrams may be shown. Both sides can ask questions or put statements to witnesses who have been called by either side. The judge can also ask witnesses questions. If both sides agree in advance of the trial that a written statement given by a witness is not going to be challenged in court, then witnesses may not be required to attend court, and their written evidence can be read out instead.

The defendant can choose not to give evidence. If they do give evidence, they can also be questioned.

After the evidence has been presented, the lawyers sum up their cases and the judge considers the verdict. If found guilty, the offender is sentenced by the judge (see below for information on verdicts and sentencing). Sentencing may be postponed until a future hearing.

What happens in a Crown Court?

Most cases heard in Crown Courts are determined by judges and juries. The judge decides on matters of law and the sentence if a defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty after a trial.

The judge and the lawyers who present evidence in Crown Courts wear robes and judicial wigs.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, their guilt or innocence is determined at trial by jury. A jury is made up of 12 members of the community, chosen at random from the electoral register. Sometimes particular jurors are dismissed prior to the trial on the request of a lawyer and replaced. A jury will be directed by the judge to try to reach a unanimous verdict, meaning all jurors reach the same verdict. However, in some cases judges allow a jury to reach a majority verdict with 10 of the 12 jurors in agreement.

Crown Court hearings and trials

Before a Crown Court hearing takes place, the defendant must appear at least once in a Magistrates' Court, where the charge is read out and the evidence is presented to the judge. This is called Committal Proceedings. After this, the case normally goes to the Crown Court, if the judge considers that there is sufficient evidence for a trial.

The first hearing at Crown Court is called the 'arraignment', which is when the defendant must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge will pass sentence (see below). This may be on a later date. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a date is set for trial. A trial date may be many weeks or months ahead. Sometimes additional hearings take place before a trial so lawyers and the judge can discuss certain legal matters.

At a Crown Court trial the evidence for the prosecution is presented by a barrister instructed by the PPS. Barristers specialise in representing people in court. The defendant usually hires a solicitor to represent them and may also hire a barrister to speak in court.

The lawyers present evidence to the judge and jury to support their cases. Photos, videos and diagrams may be shown to the jury. The lawyers may read statements from witnesses and call witnesses to give evidence in court, such as police crash investigation officers and eye witnesses.

The lawyers representing either side, and the judge, can ask any witness questions. The defendant can choose not to give evidence. If they do give evidence, they can also be questioned.

After the evidence has been presented the lawyers make closing speeches. Then the judge sums up. The jury retires to consider its verdict. This may take some time.

If the verdict is guilty, the judge considers the sentence. The judge may hear arguments by the defence for a light sentence. The judge may delay sentencing to consider the case (see below).

Youth Courts

Youth Courts deal with young people aged between 10 and 17 charged with criminal offences. Youth Courts are part of Magistrates' Courts. A judge sits with up to two specially-trained lay magistrates to hear a case. If a young person is charged with an offence which, in the case of an adult, would be tried in a Crown Court, the judge may send them for trial at a Crown Court.

If a young person is aged 17 to 21 and found guilty, they may be sent to the Young Offenders' Centre (YOC) instead of prison. The YOC is a secure facility like a prison and is run by the Prison Service.

If a young person is aged 10 to 17 and found guilty, they may be sent to the Juvenile Justice Centre. This is a secure facility like a prison. The Juvenile Justice Centre is run by the Youth Justice Agency, which is a government agency responsible for reducing youth crime.

You can find more information about the youth justice system at www.justice-ni.gov.uk.

The verdict

At trial, there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and, in some cases, guilty of a lesser offence. Sometimes, no verdict can be reached. In this case, a retrial often happens. Sometimes during a trial the defendant changes their plea. They might decide to plead guilty after previously pleading not guilty. Or they might decide to plead guilty to a lesser offence.

If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant goes free. Even if new evidence emerges against them, they cannot be tried again (except in very rare circumstances).

Pleas in mitigation and background reports

Before an offender is sentenced, their lawyer will advise the judge or magistrate about any 'mitigating' factors that they think might reduce the sentence, such as an offender's stated remorse or personal circumstances.

The judge or district judge may ask for background information about the offender. Sentencing may be delayed until a later date so this background information can be provided and the judge or magistrate can give further thought to the sentence.

Sentencing

Any sentence imposed is decided by the judge.

When sentencing, the judge may take various things into account, including:

  • any 'pleas in mitigation' or the findings of background reports (see above);
  • Victim Personal Statements;
  • whether the offender pleaded guilty or not. If the offender pleaded guilty, the sentence can be discounted (reduced);
  • the level of sentences in similar cases in the past. This is called 'case law' or precedent;
  • the maximum sentence set by Parliament for the offence;
  • the powers of the court. The Crown Court can impose higher penalties than a Magistrates' Court;
  • whether a warning, community sentence (see below) or fine are appropriate rather than prison.

A court will rarely impose the maximum penalty and sometimes imposes a much lower penalty. If you don't understand the basis for a sentencing decision, talk to the PPS. If you are unhappy with a sentence, you can make a comment or complaint. See below for information on how to do this.

Community sentences

Sometimes a road traffic offender is given a community sentence (often called a community order) rather than a prison sentence. This means they have to serve their sentence in the community rather than in prison, under the supervision of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.

The judge can impose a probation order (which means the offender is supervised while in the community), a community service order (which means the offender must do 40 - 240 hours of unpaid work), or a combination order (which includes both supervision and unpaid work). The offender may have to abide by a curfew (which means they must stay indoors at certain times) or they may have to undertake programmes to address offending behaviour (for example, a drug or alcohol programme). If an offender fails to comply with the requirements, they may have to go back to court and may receive a different sentence.

For more information, go to www.nidirect.gov.uk and search for ‘probation and community sentencing'.

Restorative justice

Restorative justice provides an opportunity to meet or communicate with an offender to explain the impact of their crime on you. It also aims to help offenders take responsibility for their actions and make amends.

An example of restorative justice could include a meeting with an offender, guided by a trained facilitator. In this meeting you explain how the crime has affected you, and the offender explains their actions and apologises. Another example could be letter correspondence, or audio or video recordings, between you and the offender. You will have the opportunity to consider and discuss what will work best for you. Your involvement in restorative justice is entirely voluntary. If you are offered it (by the Probation Board or prison service), you may want to consider it carefully, and how it may make you feel. If you aren't offered restorative justice but you want it to take place, you can talk to the PPS or your police contact.

Section 8 of the Victim Charter: A charter for victims of crime (2015) explains more about restorative justice and is available from www.justice-ni.gov.uk.

For more information about the criminal justice process, go to www.ppsni.gov.uk.

Appeals by an offender

Following a criminal case a convicted person may appeal against their conviction (if they had pleaded not guilty at trial) or their sentence or both.

If in custody, they can also apply for bail and in some cases may be released while waiting for their appeal.

If the case was heard in a Magistrates' Court

An appeal by someone against their conviction or sentence in a Magistrates' Court will be heard in a County Court by a judge who sits alone (unless it is an appeal from the Youth Court when the judge sits with two lay magistrates). In the case of an appeal against a conviction, there may be a retrial, with witnesses called again. The judge has the power to uphold or quash the conviction. In the case of an appeal against a sentence, the judge can change it to a more lenient or more severe sentence, or keep it the same.

Rarely, a case is heard in the Court of Appeal instead. This happens if it is being argued that a conviction was incorrect because the Magistrates' Court misinterpreted a law. If the Court of Appeal finds this to be true, it can order a retrial in the Magistrates' Court.

If the case was heard in a Crown Court

Many appeals by people against their conviction or sentence in a Crown Court are not given permission by the courts to go ahead.

If an appeal does go ahead following a conviction in a Crown Court, it is heard in the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has various powers. These include upholding the conviction, changing the conviction to a conviction for a different offence, quashing the conviction, changing the sentence, acquitting the person, or ordering a re-trial.

Appeals by the prosecution

The prosecution has no automatic right to appeal a conviction or a sentence in a Magistrates' Court. However, in limited circumstances involving an error of law, the prosecution may appeal a Magistrates' Court decision. This appeal is made to the Crown Court.

The PPS has no power to appeal against a verdict of not guilty in a Crown Court.

The Director of Public Prosecutions can refer a sentence imposed by a Crown Court to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the sentence was 'unduly lenient'. If you think a sentence for a charge heard in the Crown Court was too lenient you can also write to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General for Northern Ireland expressing your concerns.

Appeals to the House of Lords

Either the prosecution or the offender may appeal to the House of Lords where there is a point of law being questioned that is of general public importance.

When can appeals be lodged?

All appeals must be lodged within 28 days of a sentence being imposed and sometimes sooner. You can talk to your police or PPS contact to find out if an appeal has been lodged and the progress of any appeal. They can also tell you the date of an appeal, if you want to go, or its outcome if you don’t want to go.

Talk to your Victim and Witness Care Unit case officer to find out if an appeal has been lodged and the progress of any appeal. You can read more about appeals in the Victim Charter: A charter for victims of crime (2015), available from www.justice-ni.gov.uk.

Challenging a decision through judicial review

A few bereaved families have challenged the Public Prosecution Service in the High Court for not prosecuting a serious charge. These challenges have used a process called judicial review. The High Court has the power to rule that the PPS should reconsider bringing a serious charge. This process is very costly unless you can qualify for legal aid.

Will a prisoner serve their whole sentence in prison?

Some offenders will be released automatically halfway through their sentence or in some cases earlier.

An offender who is sentenced to less than 12 months in prison will be released automatically halfway through their sentence. If an offender commits another offence before the end of their sentence they may be required to serve the rest of their sentence in custody as well as being punished for the new offence.

An offender who is sentenced to 12 months or more in prison will serve half their sentence in prison and the rest in the community. During the period in the community they will be supervised by a probation officer and have to meet certain conditions, such as a curfew or attending a programme to address their behaviour (for example, a drink-driving awareness programme). If an offender fails to comply with conditions, they may be sent back to prison for the remainder of their sentence.

Offenders who receive a 'life' sentence will have a minimum custodial period set by the court. Once this minimum period is up, the offender may be released unless they are considered to be a risk to the public. If the offender commits another offence at any time after their release, they may be sent back to prison.

Some offenders may also be released for short periods on 'temporary licence' during their prison sentence. This could be for reasons such as to attend a funeral, have medical treatment, or to prepare them for their return to life in their community. Prisoners must return to prison at the end of a temporary licence.

Will I be told when a prisoner is going to be released?

You can sign up to a Prisoner Release Victim Information Scheme if the offender is over 18 and has been sentenced to six months or more imprisonment.

This scheme informs you of the month and year that the offender is due to be released. You will also be able to voice any concerns you have about an offender's release in writing.

You can also sign up to receive information, or voice any concerns, if an offender has been sentenced to a period of supervised probation (see above). You can choose to be informed about any changes to the probation order, such as a breach of its conditions, revocation or recall to prison.

This scheme may be particularly appropriate if the offender normally lives in your community and you are worried that they may pose a danger to you or people around you when they are released.

The Prisoner Release Victim Information Scheme is run by Northern Ireland Prison Service and Probation Board Northern Ireland. For more information and to register, call 0300 1233 269 or email victiminfo@pbni.gsi.gov.uk. You can also register online at www.pbni.org.uk.

For further information go to www.nidirect.gov.uk. You can also use this site to get in touch with the Prison Service or Probation Board if you are worried about something, for example if you have received unwanted contact from an offender.

Coroners

Coroners are independent judicial officers who investigate unnatural, sudden and violent deaths. This includes all deaths on the road. Coroners are lawyers appointed by the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission.

The coroner is required to confirm the identity of the person who died and find out how, when and where they died. Coroners reach conclusions called findings (see below). Coroners cannot find someone guilty of a criminal offence nor sentence them. This is the role of the criminal courts. Similarly, coroners cannot establish civil liability or award compensation. This is the role of the civil courts.

To help them find the cause of death, the coroner will often order a post-mortem examination of the body. In some cases the coroner’s investigation includes an inquest (see below). This will always happen if the death was from unnatural causes and if there was no criminal trial.

If someone is likely to face criminal charges for causing the death, the coroner will usually suspend their investigation until after criminal proceedings have finished. At this stage, the coroner will consider if an inquest should be held. The coroner is responsible for authorising the release of the body for burial or cremation and issues the relevant paperwork to enable the registration of a death after their investigation is complete.

Coroners are assisted by a coroner's liaison officer, who will contact the next of kin once the post-mortem examination is over. You can ask to talk to this officer at any time and they will try to answer any questions about the post-mortem examination and the coroner's investigation. You can contact the coroner's office on 0300 200 7811 or by emailing coronersoffice@courtsni.gov.uk.

Coroners' findings

A coroner's finding is a factual statement about the cause of death and the circumstances surrounding the death.

A coroner may say in their findings that a death was accidental even when someone is thought to have caused a death on the road. This can be upsetting, but criminal charges may still be brought (see below for information about the timings of criminal and coroner’s proceedings), and you may still be able to pursue a claim for compensation.

Inquests

Coroners sometimes reach their findings at public inquiries called inquests. Inquests are held in a courtroom. Their length depends on the case. Inquests after a death on the road are normally held in front of a coroner without a jury. However in certain cases, for example if the case raises concerns about public safety, a jury can be called. The coroner or their staff can tell you if this is the case.

Is there always an inquest?

The coroner will usually wait until criminal proceedings have finished before deciding whether to hold an inquest. The coroner may decide not to hold an inquest if they think the facts of the case were covered by a court hearing.

If there is no inquest, the coroner will close the case and will notify the registrar so that the family can register the death. The coroner will record the cause of death based on evidence they have on file, which is generally the findings of the post-mortem report.

If you think a court hearing failed to discuss all the aspects of your case and you think an inquest should take place, you can ask the coroner to consider holding an inquest. The coroner will take your views into account and makes the final decision about whether or not an inquest will be held.

What happens at an inquest?

At an inquest, a coroner examines the facts surrounding a death. Witnesses are usually called to give evidence. This may include the police, medical staff, expert witnesses and eye witnesses. Contributions may also be allowed by a relation, friend or legal representative of the person who has died (see below). There may be particular people who you, or a solicitor representing you, think are important witnesses. If so, you or your solicitor can suggest these people to the coroner. It is up to the coroner who they decide to call to give evidence.

Anyone who may face, or who has faced, a criminal charge in connection with the case can be required to attend the inquest and be sworn in as a witness and face questions from the coroner, although they have the right not to answer questions that may incriminate them.

With the permission of the coroner, witnesses may also be questioned by 'properly interested persons'. This could be you, or someone else close to the person who died, or a lawyer representing you. For example, you may have a lawyer who is pursuing a compensation claim on your behalf who wishes to ask questions.

The coroner may also allow witnesses to be questioned by someone, such as a lawyer, representing a person accused of a criminal offence in connection with the death.

All questions must be about the facts of the death. The coroner will decide whether a question is relevant.

If you are organising a lawyer to speak on your behalf at an inquest, it is important to choose one with expertise in doing this. Go to www.lawsoc-ni.org for a directory of lawyers.

Legal aid for representation at an inquest is sometimes available. Your lawyer can find out if you are entitled to it.

The coroner will use the evidence provided by witnesses at the inquest to reach their findings (see above).

A coroner can write a letter to outline road safety concerns that arose during an inquest. They send this letter to any relevant authority, organisation or individual who may be able to address these issues. The coroner cannot force anyone to take steps to prevent future deaths. You can ask the coroner to provide you with a copy of any letter they send and replies received, although the coroner does not have to do so.

Attending an inquest

Inquests are public hearings you can attend, if you want to. As described above, people known as ‘properly interested persons’ (including relatives of the person who died), are also entitled to representation by a lawyer.

The coroner's liaison officer should inform the next of kin of the date, time and venue of an inquest. If you are not told, you can ask the coroner's liaison officer.

For most people, attending an inquest is a new experience. You may wish to familiarise yourself with the courtroom in advance by visiting it. The coroner's liaison officer can arrange this.

Before an inquest, you, or a solicitor acting on your behalf, can request to see documents such as reports that are going to be presented at an inquest, to help you, or your solicitor, prepare for the inquest. The coroner decides whether to allow you to see such documents.

During the inquest, technical terms may be used. Coroners should try to explain terms so everyone can understand what is being discussed. You may find some evidence upsetting, for example descriptions of injuries. If you get upset during an inquest, you can leave the courtroom at any time. If you do not want to miss anything, the coroner may be prepared to adjourn the inquest for a short time.

After an inquest is over, it is possible for you, or your solicitor, to obtain a copy of notes from the inquest, for a fee. A recording of the hearing may also be available. If you didn’t attend the inquest, you may want to ask the coroner’s officer what the notes or recording contain, in case there is anything you don’t want to see or hear because it may distress you.

Because inquests are held in public, someone who may have caused the death, and their friends, may also attend. Journalists may attend and report on what happens and ask to talk to you (see ‘Practical issues’ for information on talking to journalists). You may wish to ask family or friends to attend the inquest with you for support. The coroner's liaison officer can tell you how many seats will be available.

Professional standards you can expect to receive from a coroner in Northern Ireland are available to read at www.brake.org.uk/support or go to www.courtsni.gov.uk for more information about coroners.

Having your say about criminal justice

If you have a comment or a concern about the criminal justice system you have a right to be heard and your point of view considered. Speaking up may also help improve criminal justice in the future.

You may have one or more points you wish to raise with one or more criminal justice organisations. Your first step should be to decide which organisation you need to contact. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is responsible for police family liaison and criminal investigations. The Public Prosecution Service is responsible for bringing prosecutions. The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service is responsible for what happens in court (see above), although it is worth remembering that decisions by judges can only be challenged by appeal (see above). The Northern Ireland Prison Service is responsible for what happens to an offender (see above).

Your next step is to find out the complaint policy of the organisation you want to contact. Different organisations have different complaint policies, and these policies explain how to have your say. You can usually find an organisation’s complaint policy on its website, or ask a local official who works for that organisation to give you a copy.

A complaint policy usually asks you to submit comments in writing. It should explain who will respond (usually a complaints officer or someone close to your case) and how quickly. Whoever responds should aim to address your comments to your satisfaction.

If you would prefer a meeting, this may or may not be possible or appropriate depending on the complaint policy of the organisation, their resources, and the nature of your comments.

Professional standards

When preparing your comments, it is a good idea to read the government’s Victim Charter, and other codes that set standards for criminal justice organisations to enable them to better meet victims’ needs. Read the latest versions of these codes and standards at www.brake.org.uk/support.

If you are not satisfied with a response you receive

Complaint policies usually explain steps you can take if you are not satisfied with a response. Usually, this includes giving you the chance to have your comments considered by someone else, such as someone more senior.

If you are still not satisfied with another response you receive, a complaint policy may give you further opportunities, such as having your comments reconsidered by a specialist team, or by the boss of the organisation. There may also be an opportunity to have your comments considered by an independent agency. For example, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigates complaints about the police.

Having your say to the government

Criminal justice organisations are set up and regulated by the government, and are the responsibility of particular government departments and their ministers, elected by you.

If you feel your concerns have not been answered by a criminal justice organisation and you wish to raise your concerns with the government, you have a right to do this.

Any criminal justice organisation can confirm for you which government minister they report to, in which department, and how to contact that minister. For example, the Lord Chief Justice is responsible for judicial matters in Northern Ireland.

You may choose to contact a minister directly, or through your MP or MLA.

You can also contact the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO), who is responsible for investigating complaints about government departments. For more information go to www.nipso.org.uk.

You may also wish to join one of several organisations campaigning for criminal justice in road death cases.

Seeking help to have your voice heard

If you are not sure how to have your voice heard, or you need help preparing what you want to say, call the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401. Its officers are experienced in helping you to get your thoughts across to the most appropriate people.


Go to the next section of this guide: Can I claim compensation? or to return to the contents page.

 

Criminal investigation and charges

Information and advice on the police investigation; the Public Prosecution Service and your right to be heard; criminal charges.

The police investigation

A death on the road is investigated by the police. The police have a duty to try to find out what happened by gathering evidence. A police investigation can take several months.

Giving a statement

The police may take statements from a number of different people. If you were involved in the crash, you saw the crash, or you saw vehicles before or after the crash, you may be asked to give a statement. If you were not involved in the crash, but knew the movements of a loved one on the day they died, you may be asked to give a statement too. If you give a statement, the police will write down and may record what you say.

If you have made a statement, a lawyer, or more than one lawyer, may want to interview you too. This is an essential part of the investigation and helps lawyers understand the evidence you are providing. Your contact details remain confidential - they cannot be given to someone accused of a crime.

It may be possible for a relative or friend to attend an interview with you to offer support. If you want to be accompanied ask if this is possible. If you have particular communication needs you may also be entitled to assistance from an interpreter or intermediary (someone who helps communicate to you questions the police ask, and communicate back your answers).

If you give a statement, you may or may not be required, at a later date, to give evidence in court. See the ‘Court cases’ page for information about giving evidence in court and support to help you do this.

Physical evidence

Crash investigation officers, who are usually specially-trained police officers, or employees of other specialist agencies, investigate a crash in order to identify the cause and obtain evidence. These experts may photograph, measure and video the scene of a crash and examine vehicles involved. They may examine belongings of people in the crash, such as mobile phones.

Medical evidence

Medical evidence may be provided by personnel who tended to a loved one at the crash or in hospital, and by the pathologist who did the post-mortem examination. Medical evidence can include alcohol and drug tests on drivers involved.

If the crash involved someone driving for work

If the crash involved someone driving for work, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) may get involved in the investigation. HSENI inspectors aim to identify any failure by an employer to ensure effective health and safety procedures were in place and followed. The investigation will usually be conducted jointly with the police. The police will be able to tell you if the HSENI are involved. The HSENI can take enforcement action against an employer. For more information about the HSENI go to www.hseni.gov.uk.

The police report

If the police investigation finds any evidence that suggests a crime may have been committed, this evidence is compiled into a report that is sent to the Public Prosecution Service, the agency responsible for bringing prosecutions (see below). The report is also sent to the coroner. You are not automatically entitled to see this report but you may be able to get a copy. You may only be able to get a copy after any criminal proceedings have finished.

If you wish to get a copy, you or a solicitor you are using can ask the police. You may or may not have to pay for it. If there is a charge, and you are pursuing a claim for compensation, your solicitor may be able to reclaim the charge as part of your claim.

Before reading a police report, you may want to ask your solicitor or the police what it contains. Police reports often contain photographs taken at the time of the crash and sometimes detailed interviews with eye witnesses. It will be possible for the police or your solicitor to remove anything you don’t wish to see or read.

Standards have been set for fatal road crash investigations in a police document called the Authorised Professional Practice (APP): Investigation of fatal and serious road collisions

The Public Prosecution Service

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in Northern Ireland. It works from regional offices.

If the police investigation indicates that the conduct of someone, or several people, or in some cases a company, amounted to a crime, the police will submit an investigation file to the PPS. The PPS will then review the case and decide whether or not to prosecute. The purpose of a criminal prosecution is to find out if someone has broken the law and appropriately sentence them.

PPS lawyers, called public prosecutors, apply two key tests when deciding whether a person should be prosecuted:

  1. There must be sufficient evidence for a reasonable prospect of conviction. This means that it is more likely than not that the person will be convicted. (This is different to the way a court decides whether to convict a person. A court should convict someone only if there is enough evidence to make the court sure they are guilty.)
  1. If there is enough evidence, it must also be in the public interest to prosecute. If someone has died as a result of a crime, a prosecution is normally in the public interest.

Following a review of the evidence, the PPS selects the most appropriate charge to reflect the seriousness and extent of any offending.

The PPS acts on behalf of the public interest, not on behalf of victims or victims’ families. However, when deciding if a prosecution is in the public interest, the public prosecutors should take into account any views that you or others have expressed in Victim Personal Statements (see below).

Whether or not a criminal prosecution will happen in your case depends on the circumstances of the crash.

If the PPS plans to issue a summons for an offence that can only be dealt with in a Magistrates’ Court, they must do so within six months of evidence of the date of the offence, or within six months of evidence of the offence becoming known to them. More serious charges can be brought later.

Victim and Witness Care Unit

To help you understand the prosecution process, you should be appointed a case officer who works for a Victim and Witness Care Unit (VWCU). The VWCU is run by the PPS and the police. Your police contact should let you know when the VWCU has received details about your case. You can contact the VWCU yourself or you can ask your police contact to contact the VWCU on your behalf.

You should receive a letter from the PPS within 10 days of a suspect being charged by the police or within 10 days of the police submitting an investigation file. This letter should give you information about the role of the PPS, the judicial process, how you can request a meeting and other agencies that can support you.

Your VWCU case officer should keep you informed, using your preferred means of contact (telephone, letter or email) and at a preferred time of day where possible, about:

  • whether there has been a decision to prosecute or not;
  • court proceedings;
  • the outcome of a prosecution and any appeal.

If the PPS decides not to prosecute, it must say why. You should be informed of this decision and given reasons by your VWCU case officer. You can ask for more detailed information about the decision and request a meeting with the PPS. You can also ask the PPS to review its decision.

Victims Personal Statements

If a decision is taken to prosecute someone for a crime committed against you, then you can choose to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS). This gives you an opportunity to explain in writing, before sentence is imposed, how the crash has affected your life, physically, emotionally, socially, financially, or in any other way. You can write your own VPS or someone else can help you write down what you want to say.

A VPS becomes part of the case papers and may be read out in court. You will not be asked to read out your VPS in court. You may be asked questions about the content of your statement by the judge or the defence lawyers. As part of their sentencing comments, the judge may talk about your VPS. If you do not want your comments to be talked about in court, you should say this in your statement.

You do not have to make a victim statement if you do not want to. It will not damage a case in any way or affect whether anyone is found guilty or not guilty of a crime.

If you wish to make a VPS, please talk to your police contact or a charity that supports victims of crime.

Victim Support NI is one independent charity that can help you prepare your VPS. Their help is free and confidential. Call 028 9024 4039.

Charging someone and the possibility of bail

Someone who is charged with an offence is often called ‘the accused’. The accused person may be arrested by the police and taken to a police station to be charged. Alternatively, the accused person may be issued with a court summons requiring them to attend court. The summons describes the offence and the date and venue of the first court hearing.

An accused person may be remanded in custody (imprisoned) or given bail (allowed to remain free before their case is heard). The accused will be granted bail unless the court has reason to believe they:

  • would not attend a court appearance;
  • would commit an offence while on bail;
  • would interfere with witnesses;
  • would obstruct the course of justice.

People on bail are required to:

  • turn up, when required, to court hearings;
  • comply with the law;
  • not interfere with witnesses or obstruct the course of justice;
  • make themselves available to the court as and when necessary.

Conditions may be attached to bail, such as limiting where the accused can live, or preventing them coming near you or your home or near someone else. A person on bail can also be electronically tagged. A court may require an accused person to refrain from driving as a condition of bail, but only if it considers that it is necessary to prevent the accused person from committing further offences. Otherwise, an accused person who is on bail and who possesses a valid driving licence will be allowed to continue driving while awaiting trial. It may or may not be possible to disqualify an accused person later if they are convicted in court.

The accused person may apply for bail at different stages of the case, even if it has been refused earlier. The accused may appeal against a decision not to grant bail. If bail is still refused on appeal, the accused can ask for the decision to be reviewed, but only if there is good reason. If bail is granted, the prosecution can only appeal against the decision in rare circumstances.

If the accused is granted bail and their behaviour causes you concern, for example you see them driving in a way that you consider dangerous, or if they threaten you, report it immediately to your police contact.

Changes to charges

Sometimes, if the accused is facing a serious charge, the lawyers representing the accused ask the PPS for the charge to be changed to a less serious charge, on the basis of the evidence of the case. This request can happen before a case goes to trial.

The PPS may decide to continue prosecuting the accused for the serious charge or may reduce the charge. Their decision is based on the evidence and what is in the public interest.

Criminal charges that may follow death on the road

Below we list some of the criminal charges that are available to the PPS following death on the road, and maximum penalties. Many people find it helpful to know that:

  • Maximum penalties are fixed by law and vary for different charges, sometimes significantly. Courts often impose penalties lower than the maximum.
  • Some charges mention the death or deaths, but others do not. Sometimes the only charges that can be brought by the PPS do not mention the death or deaths.
  • Sometimes several charges are brought, sometimes against different people.

Brake’s helpline on 0808 8000 401 is for anyone who has been bereaved in a road crash, whether you contributed to causing the crash or not.

Causing death or grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving

Article 9 of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1995 (SI 1995 No. 2994 NI 18)

The law states that: ‘A person who causes the death of, or grievous bodily injury to, another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.’

The definition of dangerous driving is that:

  1. the way a person drove fell far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and
  2. it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous. It is also dangerous driving if it would have been obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving a vehicle in its current state (for example, with defective brakes or other defective safety-critical components) would be dangerous.

This offence is tried in a Crown Court. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of 14 years and/or an unlimited fine. The driver must be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of two years unless there are special reasons not to disqualify. The court must also order the driver to be disqualified until s/he passes the appropriate driving test. In rare cases where the driver is not disqualified, the driver’s licence must be endorsed with between three and 11 penalty points.

Causing death or grievous bodily injury by careless or inconsiderate driving

Article 11A of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1995 (as introduced by article 52 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008)

The law states that: ‘A person who causes the death of, or grievous bodily injury to, another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, is guilty of an offence. ’

The law distinguishes between ‘dangerous’ driving and ‘careless or inconsiderate’ driving. The definition of careless and inconsiderate driving is that the standard of a person’s driving fell below (rather than far below) what would be expected of a careful and competent driver.

This offence can be tried in either a Crown Court or a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of five years and an unlimited fine in the Crown Court, or a prison sentence of six months and a maximum fine of £5,000 in a Magistrates’ Court. The driver must be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of one year. In rare cases where the driver is not disqualified, their driver’s licence must be endorsed with between three and 11 penalty points.

Causing death or grievous bodily injury by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs

Article 14 of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1995

The law states that: 'If a person causes the death of, or grievous bodily injury to, another by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, and he is, at the time when driving, unfit to drive through drink or drugs, or he has consumed so much alcohol that the proportion in his breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit, or he is required to provide a specimen but without reasonable excuse fails to provide it, or he is required by a constable to give permission for a laboratory test of a specimen of blood but without reasonable excuse fails to do so, he is guilty of an offence.'

If a driver is proven to have had more than the legal limit for alcohol in their system at the time of the crash, the prosecution does not have to prove the driver’s driving ability was impaired.

This offence is tried in a Crown Court. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of 14 years and an unlimited fine. Anyone convicted must be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of two years unless there are special reasons not to disqualify. In rare cases where the driver is not disqualified, their licence must be endorsed with between three and 11 penalty points.

Causing death or grievous bodily injury by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers

Article 12B of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1995 (as introduced by Article 53 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008)

The law states that: ‘A person is guilty of an offence under this Article if he causes the death of, or grievous bodily injury to, another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road and, at the time when he is driving, the circumstances are such that he is committing an offence under –

(a)    Article 3(1) of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981 (driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence),

(b)    Article 90 of that Order (using a motor vehicle while uninsured or unsecured against third party risks), or

(c)     Article 168A(1)(c) of that Order (driving while disqualified).’

It is possible that a driver may not be charged with this offence if their driving was without fault (for example, if the person they hit and killed caused the collision themselves because they were drink driving). In 2013 a judge ruled that driving without a licence or insurance would not be enough to hold the driver criminally responsible for causing a death if their driving was otherwise blameless.

This offence can be tried in either a Crown Court or a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of two years and an unlimited fine in the Crown Court, or a prison sentence of six months and a maximum fine of £5,000 in a Magistrates’ Court. The driver must be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of one year. In rare cases where the driver is not disqualified, the driver’s licence must be endorsed with between three and 11 penalty points.

Murder and manslaughter charges

Common Law

Murder is committed when there was intention to kill a victim or cause grievous bodily harm. This would mean that the driver had purposefully used their vehicle as a weapon. Charges of murder are rarely brought against drivers following a fatal road crash.

There are two types of manslaughter charge that could be brought against a driver who has caused death. ‘Unlawful act manslaughter’ is committed when the accused caused loss of life through an illegal action, such as using a vehicle to attack or frighten someone (but with no intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm).

‘Gross negligence manslaughter’ is committed when it is proven that the accused’s driving: caused the victim’s death; fell far below the standard of a careful and competent driver; involved an obvious and serious risk of death; and was a gross breach of a ‘duty of care’ owed by the driver to the person who died. Gross negligence manslaughter is a very serious charge and is only appropriate in cases where evidence shows that the accused’s driving was highly likely to cause a death.

The offences of murder and manslaughter are tried in a Crown Court. Murder carries a mandatory life sentence. Manslaughter has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Anyone convicted must be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of two years and then required to pass a driving test to regain a full driving licence, unless there are special reasons not to disqualify. In rare cases where the driver is not disqualified, their driver’s licence must be endorsed with between three and 11 penalty points.

Wanton or furious driving causing bodily harm

Section 35, Offences against the Person Act 1861 (as amended by the Road Safety Act 2006, section 28)

Bad driving offences under the Road Traffic Act must involve a motorised vehicle, and take place on a public road or in a public place. By contrast, the offences of ‘Wanton or furious driving causing bodily harm’, as well as the offences of murder or manslaughter, do not have these restrictions. They can be committed even if the offender is using a non-motorised vehicle, such as a bicycle. They can also be committed wherever the driving takes place, including on private land. This offence is normally only directed by the PPS when it is not possible to prosecute an offence under the road traffic legislation.

This offence is tried in the Crown Court. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of two years and/or an unlimited fine. Anyone convicted of this offence will not be disqualified from driving, but their driver’s licence will be endorsed with between three and nine penalty points.

Corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

The law states that: ‘An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised: (a) causes a person’s death, and (b) amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.’

A ‘duty of care’ is defined as a duty owed by an organisation to its employees or contractors, a duty owed as the occupier of premises or other duties described in law that relate to the running of the organisation.

An organisation is guilty of a ‘gross breach’ of a relevant duty of care if its conduct fell far below what would be reasonably expected. For example, if a company failed to ensure a vehicle it was operating had serviced brakes, and the vehicle lost control and killed someone.

This offence is tried in a Crown Court, and the director of the PPS must give consent for the trial to take place. Any penalty is against the company, not individuals working for the company. The court may impose an unlimited fine. The court may also impose a remedial order (where an organisation must make changes to prevent future breaches of health and safety laws) and a publicity order (where an organisation must publicise the details of its offence).

Gross negligence manslaughter by company employees

Common Law

Individuals within companies can be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter (see page 45) if their actions were criminal and directly led to a fatal crash. For example, if a boss of a lorry company told a driver not to take their legally-required rest breaks and the driver fell asleep at the wheel, or if they told their mechanic not to replace worn brakes on a lorry and these brakes failed. Companies can also be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter if an individual found guilty of the offence plays a significant role in the management of the organisation’s activities.

If an individual is found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If a company is found guilty, it can receive an unlimited fine.

Aggravated vehicle taking (often called ‘joy riding’ in the media)

Article 172B, Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981

This offence is committed when a person takes a vehicle without the owner's consent or other lawful authority for his own or another's use, or, knowing that any vehicle has been taken without such authority, drives it or allows himself to be carried in it or on it and at any time after the vehicle was unlawfully taken, whether by them or by another, and before it was recovered:

(a)    the vehicle was driven dangerously on a road or other public place; or

(b)    owing to the driving of the vehicle, injury or death was caused to any person; or

(c)     owing to the driving of the vehicle, damage was caused to any property other than the vehicle; or

(d)    owing to the driving of the vehicle, damage was caused to the vehicle.

The offence is tried in a Crown Court or Magistrates' Court. The maximum sentence in a Crown Court is 14 years' imprisonment if a death was caused and an unlimited fine. The maximum sentence in a Magistrates' Court is six months' imprisonment and a £5,000 fine. The driver must be disqualified for a minimum of one year. If dangerous driving was proven the convicted person must pass an extended driving test before a full driving licence can be obtained. In rare cases where the driver is not disqualified, the driver’s licence must be endorsed with between three and 11 penalty points.

Failing to stop or report an accident (often called ‘hit and run’ in the media)

Article 175, Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981

A driver involved in a crash causing death, injury or damage is required to stop, remain at the scene and give their details. If they don’t, they are required to report the crash to a police officer ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’. This offence is committed if a driver doesn't do this.

Offences under this section are tried in a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of six months and a fine of £5,000. The driver can be disqualified from driving. If not, their licence must be endorsed with five to 10 penalty points.

Charges for killing someone by using a defective vehicle

If an unsafe vehicle (for example, a vehicle with defective brakes) has caused a death, then a charge, or range of charges, depending on the case, may be brought against the driver, the owner of the vehicle if different (for example, the boss of a company running a fleet of vehicles), or anyone else considered responsible.

It may be possible, for example, to bring charges of causing death or grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving (see above), aiding and abetting (see below), or corporate manslaughter (see above).

There may be a charge of failing to comply with Construction and Use Regulations. These impose requirements relating to safety critical components such as brakes, tyres, lights, steering, tachographs (which record driving time of commercial vehicles) and speed limiters (which restrict speed on commercial vehicles).

In addition, bosses of lorry and bus companies must hold a special licence issued by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, Transport Licensing and Enforcement Branch. The Department has the power to take these licences away from bosses who break safety rules.

Breaches of Construction and Use Regulations are heard in a Magistrates' Court. There is a range of maximum fines which can be imposed for different Construction and Use offences, the highest of which is £5,000. It may also be possible to disqualify an offender from running a company.

Charges that do not mention death or injury

The following charges do not mention death or injury, but are sometimes brought against a driver who was involved in a fatal crash:

  • Dangerous driving
    Article 10 of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995; and
  • Careless or inconsiderate driving
    Article 12 of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

In some cases, there is evidence that a driver was driving dangerously or carelessly before or after the crash, but there is no evidence to prove dangerous or careless driving at the time of the crash. In these cases, the PPS may only be able to bring charges of dangerous driving or careless driving, rather than the more serious charges of ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ or ‘causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving’.

Dangerous driving can be tried in either a Crown Court or a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of five years and an unlimited fine in the Crown Court, or a prison sentence of six months and a fine of £5,000 in a Magistrates’ Court. The driver must be disqualified from driving for a minimum of one year unless there are special reasons to impose a shorter disqualification or no disqualification. The driver must pass an extended driving test before they can regain a full driving licence.

Careless or inconsiderate driving is tried in a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum penalty is a fine of £5,000. The driver can be disqualified from driving, or, if not, their licence must be endorsed with between three and nine penalty points.

Driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence

Article 3(1) the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981

A person commits this offence if they drive when they do not hold a driving licence, or if they do not comply with the conditions of their licence.

This offence is tried in a Magistrates' Court. The maximum sentence is a fine of £1,000 and three to six penalty points. The driver may be disqualified.

Driving while disqualified

Article 168A(1)(c) the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981

If a person drives during a period when they are disqualified from driving they commit this offence.

When tried in the Crown Court, the maximum sentence is two years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. If tried in a Magistrates' Court, the maximum sentence is six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to £5,000. The driver can be disqualified from driving. In rare cases where the driver is not disqualified, the driver’s licence must be endorsed with six penalty points.

Driving without motor insurance

Article 90 the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1981

If a person drives a vehicle on a road, or any other public place without motor insurance, they have committed this offence.

This offence is tried in a Magistrates' Court. The maximum sentence is a fine of up to £5,000 and six months’ imprisonment. The driver may be disqualified from driving or the driving licence endorsed with between six and eight penalty points. However, if the driver is being tried for additional serious offences it may be heard in the Crown Court together with those offences.

Aiding and abetting

Someone who encourages another person to commit an offence may also be guilty of that offence. For example, if a passenger in a vehicle encourages the driver to drive dangerously, the passenger may be guilty of aiding and abetting the dangerous driving. Generally, the same penalties apply, although length of licence disqualification may differ. This can also apply in the case of a company that uses drivers (such as a lorry or bus operator) and allowed those drivers to drive dangerously, or use vehicles in a dangerous condition. The company, or a manager within the company, may be charged.

Bringing a private prosecution

It is sometimes possible for a member of the public, rather than the PPS, to prosecute another person for a criminal offence. This is called a private prosecution. This process is very costly and you cannot claim legal aid. The PPS has the authority to take over any private prosecution and either continue or discontinue its prosecution. All cases in the Crown Court have to be prosecuted by the PPS.

Sometimes, the government introduces new offences, or changes the definition of an offence, or changes an offence’s maximum penalty.

Further information on all charges can be found in a document called Road Traffic Policy


Click to go to the next section of this guide: Court Cases or go to the contents page.

Finding appropriate legal support and advice

This webpage is sponsored by: 

DigbyBrownlogo rgb large Irwin Mitchell logo full colour Lyons Davidson SlaterGordon CHARCOAL BLUE

Expert legal advice and support can be helpful to people affected by road death and injury. There may be a number of legal matters that you need assistance with, from wills and probate issues to making a claim for damages. Solicitors specialising in civil law can help you with these issues.

This page focuses on finding specialist solicitors who can help you to claim damages following a road crash. Additional information about making a financial claim following road death or injury is available via Brake’s support literature webpages and should be read in conjunction with this page:

  • For people affected by road death, see our guides on “Information and advice for bereaved families and friends following a death on the road” (available on our support literature webpages or in hard-copy by calling the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401).
  • For people affected by serious injury, see our online guide on serious injury following a road crash

Why is it important to choose a solicitor firm who specialises in personal injury law?

Like medicine, law is a very complex area and the people who get the best outcomes for their clients in particular areas of law are those who have specialist training and experience. Just as your GP doesn’t attempt to treat conditions that require the help of a consultant, a generalist solicitor firm cannot provide the level of expertise required to get you the best possible outcome from a civil claim.

How to choose the most suitable solicitor or legal firm to pursue a civil claim:

There are two organisations which represent specialist personal injury solicitors and they provide lists of their members on their websites. They are the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS).  The European equivalent is the Pan European Organisation of Personal Injury Lawyers(PEOPIL).

Brake additionally receives funding (of £15,000 each) towards its road crash helpline from the four specialist solicitor firms listed below. These firms are all APIL and MASS members. In addition, these firms have agreed to our Solicitor Code of Conductfor supporting road crash victims. 

If you would like to seek advice from one of Brake’s legal commercial helpline sponsors their details are listed below (in alphabetical order). These firms operate independently of Brake and if you choose to instruct one of these firms they should always act in your best interests, and according to our Code of Conduct. Our relationship with them does not affect the advice they would give you, which should always be impartial and confidential. Nor does it affect the support provided by Brake’s helpline, whether or not you decide to instruct a firm that financially assists our charitable work supporting road crash victims. Information about your case would never be shared without your express permission. 

Digby Brown  

Main contact: Fraser Simpson
Telephone and email: 0141 566 9507 and fraser.simpson@digbybrown.co.uk
Website: www.digbybrown.co.uk
Information about Digby Brown:Digby Brown Solicitors are Scotland’s largest personal injury law practice. With seven offices nationwide in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness, Aberdeen, Kirkcaldy and Ayr, we help thousands of people who have been involved in road traffic crashes every year. Digby Brown were named Law Firm of the Year at the 2016 Law Awards of Scotland. The firm were also named Corporate Social Responsibility Firm of the Year, the third successive year the firm has received a national award for its work with charities and organisations across Scotland, including supporting a number of road safety awareness campaigns and events.
Why Digby Brown supports Brake: Digby Brown see the devastating effects of road traffic crashes on individuals, families and communities at first-hand every day.   We know the reality that there is too much carnage on our roads.  We also know the invaluable difference that Brake make to those affected by road traffic crashes and are proud to support and  campaign alongside the charity to make our roads safer for everyone.

Irwin Mitchell

Main contact: Claire Newstead
Telephone and email: 0113 218 6460 and claire.newstead@irwinmitchell.com 
Website:http://www.irwinmitchell.com/our-people/claire-newstead
Information about Irwin Mitchell: Irwin Mitchell Solicitors are one of the UK’s most respected and successful law firms, with an independent recognised personal injury team. We help support our clients with their claims after a road traffic collision as well as their families to help them access the best possible medical care, rehabilitation and financial support reaching an outcome that can make a real difference to their lives. Each year our personal injury lawyers also help bereaved families, who rely on us to fight fearlessly to protect their best interests and to try and gain justice for them in the most difficult of situations.
Why Irwin Mitchell supports Brake: We are proud to have supported Brake for many years and regard them as the leading national charity in supporting road safety for all road users including pedestrians. Their commitment to making our roads a safer place and their independent campaigning direct to Government is outstanding and consistent.  Without Brake, our roads would certainly be much less safe today.

Lyons Davidson

Main contact: Rachel Green
Telephone and email: 0117 904 5729 and rgreen@lyonsdavidson.co.uk
Website:www.lyonsdavidson.co.uk
Information about Lyons Davidson: Lyons Davidson Ltd is an award winning national legal practice. We are mindful of the impact and effects of fatal and life-changing injury suffered on the UK’s roads. We have supported countless bereaved families and assisted in the rehabilitation and compensation of those who have suffered life changing injuries. Our holistic and proactive approach ensures we focus on immediate rehabilitative and financial needs - as well as making all appropriate provision and support for the longer term. We are committed to carrying out business in a socially responsible way.
Why Lyons Davidson supports Brake: Brake is the leading national charity in campaigning for safer roads, educating us all to behave more safely on the roads and providing invaluable help to those affected by road death and serious injury. We are therefore extremely proud to have supported Brake for many years and recognise the very real difference made by Brake, in all areas of the charity’s work, every day.

Slater and Gordon

Main contact: Martin James
Telephone and email: 0161 383 3851 and Martin.James@slatergordon.co.uk
Website: www.slatergordon.co.uk
Information about Slater and Gordon: Slater and Gordon is one of the UK’s largest law firms with offices across the country. Our mission is to provide people with easier access to world class legal services. We are one of the country’s leading firms in personal injury and offer and unmatched breadth and depth of legal services for victims of injury. We have experts in personal injury who are classed as leaders in their field by independent legal guides, and have specialist expertise in catastrophic injuries. Our reputation is built on the services offered by our highly experienced staff who specialise in all areas of law. 
Why Slater and Gordon supports Brake: Having worked with Brake since 2001, it is incredible to see how the charity has developed over the years and the ever-increasing levels of support and resources it offers to families and professionals alike, who often have nowhere else to turn. The assistance and guidance the Brake team can offer are second to none and can make a big difference to people following life-changing incidents

Next steps, and questions to ask your solicitor:

Once you've identified a couple of firms you are interested in approaching you should be able to request an initial conversation free of charge with no obligation for you to take the claim forward with that firm if you don’t want to.

Brake has worked with APIL and MASS and specialist personal injury solicitors to develop a list of questions that can help you to decide between firms. You can also find these questions in Brake’s bereavement literature. We recommend that you use this list of questions when talking to solicitors and deciding whether or not to instruct a particular solicitor or firm.

  • Are you a member of APIL and/or MASS?
  • Do you think I have a strong claim and are you willing to take on my case?
  • What experience do you have in handling similar cases? Can you give me examples and their outcomes?
  • How many similar cases have you handled in the past five years?
  • What expertise do you have relevant to my case?
  • What fees do you charge?
  • What arrangements can you put in place for payment of these fees so that compensation I receive is not unduly spent on legal fees, and so that I do not have to pay much, or any, legal costs if I lose?
  • Will you handle my case yourself entirely, or involve colleagues?
  • If you plan to involve colleagues, how much will they be involved, and if a lot, can I meet them now?
  • How will we communicate during the process? Will you be available to explain things to me and answer my questions regularly through meetings, emails or over the phone?

Still need help selecting a specialist solicitor?

If you need any further advice or information about seeking legal support please contact the Brake helpline, 0808 8000 401 (Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm) or email helpline@brake.org.uk.

Complaints, breaches and disclaimer

Although the legal firms listed above financially support the Brake helpline, there are other reputable and experienced personal injury solicitors and you are free to use any solicitor of your choice. We have been careful to ensure that Brake’s funding firms, which provide legal services, only include firms that have agreed to Brake’s Code of Conduct . However, this does not imply that Brake can offer guarantees in respect of the information and services that these firms may provide, and no liability will attach to Brake or any of its staff, as a result of any person using this list.

Complaints procedure and breaches of our Code of Conduct: If, at any stage, you are unhappy with the service you are getting from your solicitor, you can complain to the firm via its complaints policy, which should be clearly accessible on their website. Alternatively, you can ask to speak to the partner in the practice responsible for looking after clients; often called the complaints partner.

If you remain dissatisfied, it may be possible to change solicitor. The Brake helpline can provide advice and assistance on seeking a second opinion or assisting you with any complaint procedures you are following. Call us on 0808 8000 401 or email helpline@brake.org.uk.

You can also make a complaint about a personal injury solicitor by contacting the legal ombudsman. Call 0300 555 0333 or go to www.legalombudsman.org.uk. Please note that Brake cannot investigate complaints against a solicitor, although we can act as an advocate on your behalf if requested to do so.

Additionally, if you believe that one of the above Brake helpline sponsor firms has not complied with Brake’s Solicitor Code of Conductthen please inform Brake in writing, setting out details of the firm and solicitor/s involved, and the specific part of the Code you believe has been breached and why. Brake will investigate the alleged breach and communicate the outcome of our investigation to the affected client. If we assess that a sponsor solicitor firm has breached our Code of Conduct, where appropriate we will press for any remedial action that is possible on the client’s behalf.

Letters alerting Brake to a breach of our Code of Conduct should be sent to: Brake, FAO Victim Support Services Manager, PO Box 548, Huddersfield HD1 2XZ; or emailed to: helpline@brake.org.uk, stating ‘BREACH – Solicitor Code of Conduct’ in the subject header.

For any complaints about Brake services please read our complaint policy.

Legacies and Wills

familyWhen it comes to making a will, it is only right that your family and friends should come first. But that doesn't mean you can't also leave a gift to a cause close to your heart.

Brake is the national road safety charity working to support families bereaved and affected by road crashes across the UK, and educating groups who are at risk on the road.  By remembering Brake in your will, you will help us to continue our life saving work and to make a difference to families across the UK who need our support.

How to leave a legacy

There are a few different options available to you when leaving a legacy:

    • You could leave a pre-determined amount of money
    • You could leave specific items such as jewellery or a piece of art
    • You could leave a share in, or all of, what’s left of the value of your estate after all bills have been paid and all other legacies have been distributed

Guide to making a will

Making or updating a will is easier than you may think. By making a will you can be sure that all those you care about are looked after, including the charities that matter most to you. Brake would always recommend using a solicitor when making or changing a will.

Why make a will?

Making a properly drafted will is the only way to ensure that your family and friends, and the causes close to your heart, receive what you think and hope that they should receive from your estate.

If you have not made a will, part of your estate may go to family members you do not expect or in the amount you would not wish. Your family may also end up paying excessive Inheritance Tax, which is currently charged at 40% on the value over £325,000. 

Should I write my own will?

Homemade wills, including the 'over-the-counter' templates available, can lead to problems that sometimes cannot be easily rectified. Important details may be left out, or the will could be invalid or lead to unexpected tax bills. Dealing with these issues may require expensive professional advice and can cause a lot of distress for those involved.  Brake would therefore always recommend obtaining the advice of a solicitor.

Does Brake offer a will-writing service?

Unfortunately we cannot draft your will or recommend specific solicitors, but if you have any general questions in relation to leaving a gift to Brake, including what your valued donation will be spent on, please do contact Lisa Kendall, Community Fundraising Manager, on lkendall@brake.org.uk or 01484 683294.

Practical Issues

Information and advice on informing people; burials or cremations; legal issues; personal finance; the media; memorials; crashes abroad.

Registering a death

If you are the next of kin of the person who died then you will need to register the death. Once the coroner’s investigations are complete, you will be contacted by the district registrar, who will tell you to go to the registrar’s office to register the death.

After the death has been registered, you can obtain a death certificate from the General Register Office in Belfast. You can do this either online, by phone, by post or in person. For more details go to www.nidirect.gov.uk.

You may need proof of the death sooner than this, for example to enable you to move money between bank accounts or claim benefits (see below). In this case, you can ask the coroner to give you a ‘certificate of evidence of death’. This is free. Information on how to contact the coroner is available on the ‘court cases’ page.

For more information on registering a death, contact your district registrar or call the General Register Office for Northern Ireland on 0300 200 7890 or go to www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Talking to motor insurers

If a person who died was driving a vehicle then you, or someone on your behalf, needs to tell their motor insurer that they have died. The police can give you basic details that the motor insurer needs, such as the details of another driver. You do not have to tell the motor insurer what happened in the crash. You only need to say that the crash is being investigated by the police.

The motor insurer may offer you a solicitor to help you find out if you have a compensation claim. It is up to you whether you choose this solicitor or a different solicitor (see below).

Whether or not a person who died was driving a vehicle, you are advised to consult a solicitor of your choice as soon as possible. It may be possible, at no cost to you, to make a significant claim for compensation from the motor insurer of a vehicle that contributed to the crash.

At any stage you may be contacted by the other side’s motor insurer, offering you money in settlement for any compensation claim you may have. If this happens, you are strongly advised not to accept this money. Do not sign any forms they send you. A settlement they offer may be lower than the amount that a solicitor could obtain for you.

Telling others

There may be people other than relatives and friends who may need to be told about a death quite soon. You can choose to tell these people yourself or ask someone to do it for you. These people may include:

  • employers (if you are employed you may be entitled to immediate bereavement leave or be given permission to take your holiday entitlement now; some employers and trade unions also have benevolent funds that provide support to families of employees who have died);
  • school, college or nursery (teachers can provide valuable support);
  • life insurance and pension companies (the sooner you inform these companies, the sooner you can go ahead with any possible claims from these plans);
  • bank or building society;
  • mortgage or loan provider;
  • landlord;
  • housing department or housing association (if a person who died was living in social housing);
  • utility providers (for example, gas, electricity and phone), particularly if a person who died lived alone;
  • benefit providers (see below);
  • HM Revenue and Customs (if a person who died paid tax);
  • Passport Office (if a person who died had a passport);
  • DVLA (if a person who died had a driving licence);
  • social clubs that a person who died attended.

Arranging a burial or cremation

A body’s burial or cremation can take place once a coroner has given permission.

Arrangements for a body to be buried or cremated, and arrangements for any funeral service or gathering in their memory, are usually overseen by a close relative. If you are the person making arrangements, consider any instructions that the person who died left in a will or elsewhere, or told anyone (see below). You may also want to consult other people who were close to the person who died. A cremation can only go ahead if close relatives do not object. If the person who died followed a religion, there may be religious practices to follow.

Making decisions at this time can be hard. You may find it easier to make decisions and share tasks with other close family or friends. People in the same family sometimes have different or strong views on what should be done. Discussing options and making decisions together can help. Alternatively, you may choose to let someone else make decisions.

Some people hold more than one memorial event, so everyone gets an opportunity to say goodbye in a way that has meaning to them.

You, or someone else responsible for the dead person’s estate, is responsible for ensuring the cremation or burial happens, and deciding how. This means that, as long as you choose a legal method, no-one (for example a funeral director) can compel you to do it in a particular way.

Using a funeral director

Many people arrange a burial or a cremation with the help of a funeral director. A funeral director’s services usually include, among other things, looking after the body prior to burial or cremation, providing you with a choice of coffins, shrouds or urns to buy, liaising with the burial ground or crematorium on your behalf if necessary and transporting the body.

If you decide to use a funeral director, and are considering which one to use, you may want to choose one who is a member of an association and follows a code of practice.

The following associations provide lists of members:

Some people choose not to use a funeral director because they want to manage arrangements themselves. Some people choose to use a funeral director only for certain things, such as looking after the body. You can get advice on managing arrangements yourself from the charity the Natural Death Centre. Go to www.naturaldeath.org.uk or call 01962 712690.

Some people choose not to use a funeral director because arrangements are being managed by a faith leader.

Burial grounds

Your local authority or funeral director can provide you with lists of local cemeteries and church graveyards. Some burial grounds may already be full. The person in charge of a burial ground can tell you.

There is also the option of burial in a woodland. This provides a natural setting for burial, while also using the land to grow plants and encourage wildlife.

Ashes

If your loved one’s body is being cremated, then their ashes can be scattered in a place of your choice or garden of remembrance, buried in a cemetery or graveyard, or kept by you. You need to get permission from any landowner before making arrangements to scatter or bury ashes.

Coffins and shrouds

Bodies can be placed in coffins made from a range of materials, including cardboard. The body can alternatively be wrapped in a shroud before being buried or cremated. You can buy coffins and shrouds from a funeral director, over the internet or make your own. There are rules governing the wrapping of bodies. If you are not using a funeral director, you can get advice from the Natural Death Centre (see above).

Paying for a burial or cremation

You may be able to get help paying for all or some of the costs of a burial or cremation if:

  • you are on a low income and receive certain benefits, and you are responsible for paying for the funeral of a close relative or friend. You may be eligible for a ‘funeral payment’ to help with the essential costs of a funeral. (To find out more, go to www.nidirect.gov.uk and search ‘funeral payment’.);
  • the person who died was signed up to a scheme providing payment for such costs. This scheme could be part of an employment package, a personal pension plan, or an insurance plan;
  • the person who died had paid in advance for their own burial or cremation through a payment plan. Some credit union accounts also make a payment towards funeral costs when the account holder dies. (Some payment plans may only pay for the use of a particular funeral director.)

If you aren’t eligible for this help, you should still keep receipts of costs in case you can claim them back later. You may be able to do this if someone is found to have been responsible for a death as part of a claim by you for compensation.

The websites www.yourfuneralchoice.com and beyond.life compare prices and services of funeral directors.

Direct funerals

One option for reducing the cost of a funeral is a burial or cremation without any mourners present. This is sometimes called a ‘direct’ funeral. The funeral director makes arrangements with the crematorium or burial site, collects the body, and returns ashes from the crematorium in an urn. Many people who choose this option still have a memorial ceremony, but hold it on a different day, later on.

The Natural Death Centre can advise you on ways to lower the cost of a burial or cremation and lists funeral directors specialising in direct funerals. Call 01962 712 690 or go to www.naturaldeath.org.uk.

Hiring a solicitor

Many people bereaved by a road crash benefit from hiring one or more solicitors as soon as possible. The earlier you consult a solicitor, the sooner they can consider your case and the greater the chance they will be able to help you. An initial consultation with a solicitor should be free.

Different solicitors specialise in different areas of law. A personal injury solicitor is the best person to advise you on whether you can claim compensation and pursue any claim for you. Sometimes a lot of money can be claimed, so it is important to find out. You may also need advice from a solicitor specialising in wills. Depending on your circumstances, you may also need specialist advice regarding issues around an inquest, a post-mortem examination, a criminal case, or a death that happened abroad.

Wills

If you are the next of kin of an adult who has died, or you have been appointed as their representative, you need to find out if they made a will. Copies of wills may be held by a bank, solicitor or accountant, or at the home of the person who has died, or they may have been deposited with the Probate Office in Belfast or the District Probate Office in Londonderry. For more information go to www.nidirect.gov.uk and search for ‘wills’.

A will appoints a person or people (known as an executor) to administer the estate of a person who has died (everything they owned). It also gives instructions on how possessions and money should be distributed and may also include instructions about their burial or cremation and any funeral.

Wills can be complicated. Sometimes there is no will. Whether or not there is a will, a specialist solicitor can give you advice on what you need to do. The Law Society of Northern Ireland provides details of solicitors who specialise in wills. Go to www.lawsoc-ni.org/solicitors or call 028 9023 1614.

You can usually meet with a solicitor for free to decide if you want to use them or not. If you hire them, their legal costs are usually paid from the estate of the person who died. You can also contact your local Citizens Advice office or law centre for free advice. To find details of the law centre nearest to you, go to www.adviceni.net or call 028 9064 5919.

Benefits

Some people qualify for benefits after being bereaved. You may be able to claim benefits for all sorts of reasons, for example if a partner has died, or you are bringing up children on a low income.

If a person who has died was claiming benefits or a state retirement pension, or if you were receiving benefits for them, you need to let their benefits office know about the death.

To find out if you can claim any benefits, contact your local benefits office as soon as possible. You can also call the Benefit Enquiry Line on 0800 220 674, or visit www.nidirect.gov.uk. You can also contact your local Citizens Advice Office for free advice.

Financial issues

Many people find their bereavement causes financial issues; for example, if a person who died was working and provided income. Some bereaved people struggle to pay bills at this time.

Some bereaved people also find they are managing finances for the first time, because this was a task undertaken by a person who died. Understanding finances that someone else previously managed can be challenging, particularly at such a difficult time.

The following organisations can give advice:

Charities offering advice:

Government-established advice service:

If you are pursuing a claim for compensation, it is sometimes possible to obtain an early partial payment, to help with immediate financial needs. Your solicitor can advise you.

Stopping unwanted mail

You may find it upsetting to receive junk mail, email or sales calls for someone who has died. One way to reduce the chance of this is to register, for free, with The Bereavement Register. Call 0800 082 1230 or go to www.thebereavementregister.org.uk.

You can also stop unwanted sales calls, mail and faxes by registering with:

You may have to re-register with these services every few years.

The above services may not stop all unwanted correspondence, but will reduce the chance of it happening.

Social media

Communicating with friends, family or colleagues through social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) is an important part of many people's lives. You may find comfort and support through your use of social media at this time.

It is important not to make comments publicly on websites that could create problems for a police investigation, a criminal trial or a compensation claim. If you wish to discuss such things with people who are close to you, it is safest to do so only through private messaging or email.

There are many websites that encourage people to state their views on public forums (for example, on news websites). These forums often contain a variety of views, some of which may not be sensitively worded nor fair comment. They may contain incorrect information. A driver who has caused a crash may also post things on their own social media accounts that you may find upsetting.

For your well-being, you may choose to avoid sites which could contain insensitive posts or incorrect information, and only visit places on the internet where you feel safe, supported and can trust what you are reading.

If you feel you are suffering online harassment, for example threats to harm you physically, talk to the police.

Your case in the media

Journalists from newspapers, or radio or TV programmes, often want to cover crashes and court cases. You cannot stop the media from reporting on your case or publishing your name and where you are from. Journalists may publish or broadcast stories about your case without talking to you, or they may phone you, knock on your door, or approach you at a court hearing for a comment. They may ask you for a photograph or home video of someone who has died. They may ask to interview you or photograph you.

Different people feel differently about the media. You may feel grateful for media coverage, or dislike it, or feel disappointed that there isn't more media coverage. It is up to you whether you talk to journalists or not. You may decide to talk to journalists to help raise awareness of road safety, or to help find witnesses to the crash. You may find that you prefer to talk to some journalists but not to others. You may decide not to talk to journalists for personal reasons.

If you aren't contacted by journalists but want media coverage, you can contact them. You can ring up, email or write to journalists. Alternatively, your solicitor (see above) or the police (see below) may be able to help you liaise with journalists.

Ask your police contact or your solicitor (see above) if there is anything you shouldn’t talk about to journalists. If someone is accused of causing a death, it is important not to make comments that could create problems for a police investigation, a criminal trial or a compensation claim.

Police help with the media

The police can often help you to manage your relationship with the media, particularly in the first few days after the crash or around any court case. A police manual called Family Liaison Officer Guidance says police should work with you to develop a ‘media strategy’ that takes into account your views on media coverage. You can download this manual at from the Brake website.

The police often release their own media statements about crashes and resulting court cases to the media, and will be able to give these to you. Your police contact should be able to pass on to the media any written statement you want to make, any photograph you want to see published or home video you want broadcast. In some cases the police also organise press conferences for bereaved families. This might happen at the end of a court case, or to appeal for witnesses.

Choosing a photo or home video

When choosing a photo or home video of someone who has died to pass on to the media, you may wish to consider how they would have wanted to be remembered. Your police contact can arrange for a photo to be altered if necessary – for example, taking a loved one’s image from a group photo.

A few families have given the media a photo of a loved one’s dead body, or of them critically ill in hospital before they died. They have done this as part of an appeal for witnesses or to explain to the public the horror of road crashes. You can ask the media to use a photo for a specific purpose and on just one occasion, accompanied by specific words from you, and then ask for the photo not to be used again. If you would like a photo to be used on just one occasion, you should agree this with the journalist who contacts you, before the photo is used. It is advisable to have a record of this agreement, for example by asking the journalist to email you, or asking the journalist if you can record their verbal agreement on your mobile phone.

You can release a photo to just one journalist or lots of journalists. Your police contact may be able to help.

You are advised not to give original photos or home videos to the media in case they lose them. Newsrooms can be hectic, messy places. The police should be able to make copies for you.

Being interviewed by a journalist

Being interviewed by a journalist can be hard, particularly if they are a stranger and they want you to talk about how you feel. It can be particularly hard to do interviews that are being broadcast on radio or TV. If you decide to talk to a journalist, it can help to ask in advance what questions they want to ask, and to think what you might want to say. If you are doing an interview at a radio or TV station, you might want to take a friend for support, or if you would prefer, ask for the interview to be done at your home.

Making a comment or complaint about the media

If you are unhappy with a journalist's conduct or think that a journalist has published or broadcast something that is incorrect or unfair, you can make a complaint to the relevant publication or TV or radio station.

If you are complaining about a publication, address your complaint to the editor and publisher. If you are complaining about a TV or radio station, address your complaint to the director. Sometimes the media offers to print or broadcast an apology. A newspaper or magazine may offer to print a letter from you.

Journalists are governed by national codes of practice that require them to respect the privacy and feelings of bereaved people.

  • The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) regulates the Editors’ Code of Practice, a set of rules that newspapers or magazines who are members of IPSO must follow. To read this code and find advice about dealing with media attention, or complain if you think a journalist has broken this code, go to www.ipso.co.uk. IPSO can help with unwanted press attention or harassment concerns and has a 24-hour helpline 07799 903 929.
  • The Ofcom Broadcasting Code governs TV and radio journalists. To read this code and make a complaint if you think a journalist has broken this code, go to www.ofcom.org.uk or call 0300 123 3333.

Some people bereaved by a road crash wish to campaign for road safety, the ‘Useful Organisations’ page gives details of organisations that can help you do this.

Roadside memorials

Some people bereaved in road crashes wish to place flowers and other things at the place where a loved one has died, in their memory. Some people see this as an important expression of their grief. You may or may not want to do this.

Many local authorities allow small temporary memorials such as flowers and cards. Some local authorities grant permission for small permanent memorials, such as a plaque on a grass verge, or depending on the location, larger memorials such as a bench. However, some local authorities may not allow permanent or large memorials, and some may even restrict the length of time that flowers can be placed at the site of a crash.

If you want to seek permission for a permanent or large roadside memorial, you need to talk to the relevant local authority to find out what they allow.

You may want to ask someone else to talk on your behalf to your local authority about roadside memorials. The Brake helpline can do this for you. Your solicitor, police contact, or another support agency may also be able to help.

If cards or notes are placed by other people, you may want to ask your police contact to retrieve them after a period of time and give them to you.

Website memorials

Some people bereaved in road crashes decide to have a website in memory of a person who died, and publish memories, poems, messages, pictures or videos on this website. There are several organisations dedicated to providing this service for you, including ones that are free or low cost. The Brake helpline can put you in touch with these services, call 0808 8000 401.

If the crash happened abroad

If a loved one died abroad, there may be many added complications, such as different legal procedures or a language barrier.

The Brake helpline works with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to provide emotional and practical support to families and friends in the UK of anyone killed in a road crash abroad.

If you have been in touch with the FCO you should have been offered Brake’s support. If not, you can call the helpline on 0808 8000 401 (Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm) or email helpline@brake.org.uk.

You can also ask for support from FCO Consular staff based at British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates overseas, and in London in the Consular Directorate of the FCO.

These officials can:

  • give you information about burial or cremation in the country in which someone died, or information about transporting the body and personal belongings back to the UK;
  • advise you how to register a death in the country where the person died;
  • help you transfer money from the UK to pay costs;
  • offer basic information about the local police system and legal system, including the availability of any legal aid;
  • provide you with details of local lawyers, interpreters and funeral directors.

FCO staff cannot investigate deaths abroad nor give legal advice. If you have concerns about legal issues, a solicitor with experience of dealing with deaths abroad can advise you (see above).

If the person who died had travel insurance, it is advisable to contact the insurer as soon as possible, in case there is a possibility of a claim.


Click to go to the next section of this guide: Criminal investigation and charges or to return to the contents page.

Risk management and your legal requirements

Trips are great, and you will already understand the importance of a risk-assessed safe trip.

But have you considered risk management best practice relating to the journey, as well as basic road traffic criminal and civil law requirements? You are advised to apply high safety standards to your journey, that may be significantly higher than the requirements of law. There are two reasons why should do this:

a) To give the best possible protection to the children and adults you are transporting, above and beyond the protection that the minimum standards required by law provide; and

b) To protect you if someone is hurt on your trip. You need to be able to prove that you took all the steps you could to manage the risks of your trip.

You may think:

  • that complying with minimum legal requirements is enough. But if you are aware that something practicable above and beyond the law can be done to reduce a risk, then you are duty bound under health and safety legislation's duty of care to take that step.
  • that because someone in a position of authority (such as a governor, or a local transport adviser, or a colleague or a boss) has said you only need to comply with minimum legal requirements, then you don't have to do more. You can't abdicate responsibility to someone else in this way, particularly not after you have been given guidance that tells you more about a risk and how to better manage it.
  • that because parents have ticked a form giving you permission to transport their child, and they did not require you to follow any particular safety procedure, then you are not liable. Parental permission does not relieve you of responsibility. Equally, you cannot abdicate responsibility to parents by asking them what you should do. They are not risk management professionals with expertise in transport safety, and should not make decisions for you.
  • that other factors, such as a slightly greater cost or inconvenience incurred due to implementing safety measures, outweighs your responsibility to manage risk. As well as not being a reasonable defence in court, this just isn't a moral thought process - you are gambling with people's lives to save money, time or something else that is less important. If children were hurt, there is a chance they might die or be permanently paralysed or brain injured. This would have serious repercussions for your reputation and your staff morale.
  • that because trips went without a hitch previously, you don't need to improve your safety standard now. Just because nothing has gone wrong so far, it doesn't mean it won't next time.

Health and safety law requires you to manage risk. If a risk is identified and easily-implemented safety measures are recommended, you ignore these measures at your peril. You could not claim ignorance in court. Plan with risk management in mind, and you'll get a good night's sleep the night before your trip!

Serious injury guide: Hiring a solicitor to claim compensation for you

There is no automatic compensation for people seriously injured by a road crash. However, compensation can often be awarded through a legal process, pursued by a solicitor you hire,  using civil law. In some cases, very large amounts of money can be awarded.

Awarding compensation using civil law is not dependent on a driver being found guilty under criminal law of any traffic offence. Even if an injured person was partly responsible for the crash, it may still be possible to obtain compensation from a driver whose actions were also partly responsible.

Compensation payments are not dependent on the responsible driver being able to pay any money themselves. The compensation is usually paid by their motor insurer. If they were uninsured, or are untraceable, then the money is usually paid by an organisation called the Motor Insurers' Bureau.

A suitably qualified and experienced solicitor can identify if you have a claim for compensation, pursue a claim on your behalf, and work to ensure you are awarded as much money as possible.

The rest of this page gives you advice on hiring the right solicitor and funding your solicitor.

Hiring the right solicitor to pursue compensation

To pursue compensation, you need to hire a solicitor. You are advised to use a solicitor with a specialism in personal injury motor compensation claims. The following organisations provide lists of these solicitors:

The Motor Accident Solicitors Society: 0117 925 9604

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers: 0115 958 0585

A solicitor you are considering using should agree to meet with you for free initially, to advise you on whether they think you have a claim or not. You may wish to meet with more than one solicitor. Different solicitors have different expertise and experience, different fees, and different ways to pay them.

It is important you understand any agreement you sign with a solicitor; particularly any costs involved in them pursuing compensation for you.

Here are some questions that it is appropriate to ask a solicitor you are considering hiring:

• Are you a member of the two organisations listed above?

• How many serious injury traffic claims have you handled in the past year?

• Have you handled claims similar to this one recently? For example, claims with the same type of injuries? If so, can you describe these claims and their success?

• Will you handle this case, or will you pass it on to other solicitors who I haven't yet met? If so, can I meet them before hiring your company?

• How will I pay you, and how much will it cost me if I win and if I lose?

Also, consider whether the solicitor listens to your questions and answers them with care.

If you are in any doubt about a solicitor, consult another. Some claims take years to process, so it is very important that you are happy with your solicitor of choice.

Your nearest specialist solicitor may work some distance from your home. However, it is more important to hire a specialist than a solicitor near you, or one you know already. You can do a lot over the phone, by email and post. Some solicitors can visit you at home.

Do not delay consulting solicitors 

If you have a good chance of compensation, the solicitor you hire will want to work on your case as soon as possible. It can take time to compile evidence to support your case, and the earlier you hire a solicitor, the sooner compensation can be awarded.

Claims must be submitted within three years. Three years may sound a long time but claims can take time to prepare. Sometimes it takes time to determine the severity of the injuries and the long-term effect on the injured person's life both at home and at work. Evidence needs to be collected and medical reports need to be obtained from doctors.

The time limits are extended for children and also for adults who have mental health problems which prevent them from managing their own financial affairs.

Talking to your solicitor

Your solicitor should be available to talk to you regularly, on the phone or face to face. They should explain what is happening in straightforward terms and answer your questions.

It is a good idea to keep notes of conversations with your solicitor and copies of correspondence so you can keep track of your claim.

Ensure you know who is handling your case. Sometimes several people in a solicitor's office may work on your case.

Rogue offers of help     

You may be approached by someone offering to handle your claim for a straight percentage of your compensation. You may see adverts offering this service. This method of payment is called a contingency fee or Damages Based Agreement, and is not the same as a conditional fee, although, confusingly, may be referred to as 'no win, no fee' agreements.

If you are awarded a lot of money you will probably have to pay an unreasonably large amount of money to the person handling your claim. You are therefore advised against agreeing to this method of payment.

Contingency fees are often proposed by someone called a claims assessor or claims farmer, or a claims management company. Claims assessors are not personal injury solicitors. They are neither qualified nor regulated to the standards of solicitors. 

You may also be approached by someone representing the other side's motor insurance company, offering to settle your claim directly and quickly with you, without the need for you to hire a solicitor. This is also not a good idea as it can result in you receiving much less compensation than you are due.  

Complaining or changing solicitor

If, at any stage, you are unhappy with the service you are getting from your solicitor, you can ask to speak to the partner in the practice responsible for looking after clients; often called the complaints partner. If you remain dissatisfied, it may be possible to change solicitor. The organisations listed above will be able to give you advice about alternatives.

Paying your solicitor

Some people pay their solicitor as they go along, either because they have the funds to do so, or they own an insurance policy that covers legal expenses. Your solicitor can help you check any insurance policies you own to find out if you are covered.

Many people do not have available funds to pay a solicitor to pursue a claim for them. However, if you have a good claim, it should be possible to reach an agreement with your solicitor that means you only have to pay a small amount, or even nothing, if you lose your claim. If you win, the person you are claiming from will usually have to pay most, or all, of your solicitor's legal fees and expenses. Depending on the agreement you signed with your solicitor, you may however have to pay your solicitor additional funds from your compensation.

There are complex laws governing how solicitors are paid in compensation cases. It is important that you understand, from the beginning, how your solicitor intends to cover the costs of your claim and any fees you may personally be liable for, at any time, if you win or lose your claim.

It is particularly important that you do not sign an agreement that would result in your solicitor unreasonably obtaining a large amount of your compensation if you win your case, or you being liable for hefty legal costs if you lose your case.

Read more

The process of claiming compensation

Back to the Serious Injury Guide menu

This serious injury guide has been written thanks to sponsorship from Slater and Gordon.

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Vincents Solicitors & Brake

Working with the victims of road crashes, Preston based law firm Vincents Solicitors are well aware of the devastating impact which crashes can have on individuals, families and communities. Common causes of crashes, such as speeding, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and using a phone at the wheel, are all quite well known. However, there's a number of things which drivers can do when on the road that are both illegal, and which increase your chances of being involved in a crash. Vincents Solicitors have made a interactive runthrough of dangerous, illegal behaviours, which you can read about. Below are a few of the dangerous behaviours they've picked up on, which you may not be aware of.

Eating whilst driving

Vicents Eat Drive 

Overloading your vehicle

Vincents Overloading

Applying make up whilst driving

Vincents Makeup

 

 

 

Working with Brake: Hampson Hughes Solicitors

 

Here at Hampson Hughes Solicitors, our clients are the focus of everything we do. We understand the heart breaking effects serious injury can have upon a client's life and the impact it can have on families and friends.

Hampson Hughes Solicitors have a team of specialist legal experts for catastrophic and serious injury cases which include Brain, Spinal Cord & Nerve Damage, Amputation, Burn Injuries, Head Injuries, and Broken & Fractured Bones and Inquests.

Our Catastrophic Injuries Team is headed by Alisha Ward (Head of the Catastrophic Injury Department, Solicitor Advocate, and Director at Hampson Hughes Solicitors) and Adrian Mullen (Solicitor Advocate and Head of the Clinical
Negligence Department) - each offering specialist advice and many years of experience.

As a Firm dealing with the devastating effect of road crashes on a day to day basis, we are acutely aware of the important of Road Safety.

Hampson Hughes is in partnership with Brake as official corporate partners and we are committed to preventing road deaths and injuries and will continue to be dedicated to providing help and support to those bereaved or injured in road crashes

Meet Hampson Hughes Director
Alisha Ward

Alisha Ward is the Head of the Catastrophic Injury Department and has worked in Personal Injury for over 15 years, and has her Higher Rights of Audience. Alisha and her team provide a bespoke service of support to our clients who
have unfortunately been affected by a catastrophic or serious injury.

Alisha has worked tirelessly over the last few years to ensure that our clients receive the maximum compensation that can be awarded. She works closely with Senior counsel, leading medical experts and treatment providers to ensure clients receive the help and support they need from the outset of the Claim.

Alisha also works alongside a number of charities and has helped raise thousands of pounds in the last year to assist and support a variety of charities that her clients have benefited from.

Meet Hampson Hughes Head of
Clinical Negligence Department, Adrian Mullen

Adrian Mullen is also a Head of Department at Hampson Hughes and provides specialist advice to clients in a number of areas. Adrian is an extremely experienced solicitor and has over 10 years PQE.

Adrian has a medical background, having previously worked at leading London hospitals in the areas of renal and cardiac medicine.

The focus of the Clinical Negligence team is to provide a quality, value for money
service.

For free advice on making a compensation claim, contact Hampson Hughes Solicitors on 0800 888 6888 or email on info@hampsonhughes.co.uk.

www.hampsonhughes.com