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.
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 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'.
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.
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.
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 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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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