Articles Tagged ‘support - Brake the road safety charity’

About us and our supporters

UNPBrake34134York030Road safety affects everyone. It affects whether children can go to the park or walk to school, elderly people can get to the shops, people can take up cycling to get to work or get fit, and families feel safe to get around their neighbourhoods.

For some people, it changes everything. Road crashes and casualties end lives too soon, rip families apart, leave communities reeling in shock and victims feeling alone and without hope.

Brake is a road safety charity working with communities and organisations across the UK to stop the tragedy of road deaths and injuries, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and support people bereaved and seriously injured on roads. (We also work in New Zealand and run global projects.)

For answers to frequently asked questions about Brake, click here.

Annual Report 2017

See our Annual Report 2017 for more on Brake’s mission to promote safe and sustainable transport, and provide support to the victims of road crashes.

Annual Report 2016

Annual Report 2015

Brake’s vision

Brake's vision is a world that has zero road deaths and injuries, and people can get around in ways that are safe, sustainable, healthy and fair.

We are a humanitarian charity, working with urgency and in partnership with others to implement evidence-led solutions to a crisis that affects us all and our planet. Read our vision, mission, values and aims

Brake’s work

Every day in the UK, five people die on roads and about 60 more are seriously injured, causing needless loss of life and inflicting terrible suffering.

RSWnzWe work to stop these tragedies and support people left bereaved and injured. We also work to end the danger, threat and pollution from traffic that blights communities and affects families across the UK.We have been working since 1995 to make a difference across the UK.

We promote road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies through campaignscommunity educationinformation and advice for organisations operating fleets of vehicles and road safety professionals, and the UK’s flagship road safety event, Road Safety Week. We provide essential support to people across the UK devastated by road death and serious injury to help them in their darkest hours.

Our work includes:

  • running an accredited, expert helpline and providing support literature to help bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims cope with their grief, deal with bewildering practical matters and access the help they need. Our helpline supports more than 500 families a year and our support packs are handed to families by police following every UK road death
  • coordinating national Road Safety Week every November, involving about 10,000 schools, employers and road safety professionals, raising awareness about road safety in communities across the UK
  • campaigning for essential road safety policies and wider awareness, such as through our flagship Know it & Solve it, Pace for People, Modern Vehicles and Driving for Zero campaigns
  • calling on drivers to slow down to protect children, and organising a Beep Beep! Day initiative for pre-schoolers
  • running a membership scheme, producing resources and running webinars and conferences to help fleet managers, employers and road safety practitioners
  • encouraging people to make our Brake Pledge and use our road safety advice, to help everyone to use roads safely and sustainably
  • making sure our voice is heard in the media.  

Our work is supported by many household names. Read comments from our celebrity supporters.

Brake's trustees

Our trustees include a senior personal injury solicitor, a professor of emergency medicine, and the chief scientist at TRL, the UK's Transport Research Laboratory. Find out more here.

Brake staff

You can meet some of the Brake team here.

Support Brake

Brake is proud to do a lot with limited resources, but we need your help to do more. We are funded by donations from, and fundraising by, individuals, groups, schools and companies, and through grants – huge thanks to all our supporters. Here are some of the ways you can help us grow and increase our impact. 

Corporate partnership: organisations can show their support for safer roads and road crash victims, and work with us to make road safety central to their CSR activities.

Fundraise: there are endless ways to support and promote the road safety cause in your community or organisation.

Join: keep up to date with our work and road safety. Get our fortnightly news bulletin, or bulletins for professionals or educators. Employers and practitioners: join our Brake Professional scheme.

Donate: the quickest and simplest way to help.

Follow and share: on FacebookTwitterYouTube, Vimeo and LinkedIn.

Contact us: find out how to get in touch.

 

Brake helpline for road crash victims

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This webpage is sponsored by: 

DigbyBrownlogo rgb large Irwin mitchell logo small new jul18 Lyons davidson logo small new jul18 SlaterGordon CHARCOAL BLUE

For information about seeking legal support following a road crash, see Brake’s legal support webpage 


Brake's helpline is a quality accredited, Freephone, confidential support service, providing information and advocacy, emotional support and a listening ear.

To speak to our friendly, experienced and professionally trained helpline team, call 0808 8000 401, or contact us via email at helpline@brake.org.uk. The helpline is open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.

The helpline provides support for UK residents in the following circumstances:

  • if you have been bereaved or seriously injured in a crash
  • if you are caring for someone bereaved or seriously injured in a crash
  • if you are a professional, such as a police officer, teacher or health worker, wanting advice about how to help people affected by a crash

We will provide support whether the crash was recent or a long time ago, and whether it occurred in this country or abroad.

Read more about who we can help and our helpline specification.

The Brake support team understands that every road crash is different, every caller is an individual and each set of circumstances is uniquely painful, and we tailor our support according to your needs. Our over-riding aim is to help you to feel able to cope, emotionally and practically, in the aftermath of the crash and as you adjust to your new reality. We can stay in touch with you for as long as our support continues to be helpful.

Our helpline officers are trained and experienced support professionals. We can help in different ways, according to your situation, tailoring our support to meet your needs.  

1. We offer emotional support

Our caring support staff will listen to your feelings, and enable you to freely express the emotions you are experiencing, if this is helpful to you. We can also provide reassurance that your feelings are normal in the awful circumstances, and direct you towards further sources of specialist or face-to-face support if this would be helpful:

  • Support from someone who’s ‘been there’:
    Some people find it helpful to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience. Our 'I've been there' service provides an opportunity for you to talk over the phone to a volunteer who has been affected by a crash in a similar way and has found a way forward with their life.
  • Help with symptoms of trauma:
    It may be that the initial shock and trauma of the crash remains with you and makes getting on with normal life very difficult. If you are suffering in this way, it is important to have an assessment with an expert and seek appropriate treatment, which is often a course of talk-based therapy. Our helpline officers can help you understand what you are going through and help you to access assessment and treatment through the NHS and elsewhere.
  • Finding the right face-to-face or specialist support for you and your family:
    We offer a personalised support-sourcing service for callers and their families, and our helpline team are experts in finding suitable local or specialist support, where this exists. This may be a locally-based support worker who can visit you at home or in hospital in the early weeks; a specialist support service for victims suffering a particular injury; online support or peer forums for bereaved young people; face-to-face counselling, bereavement support or other talking therapy; local support groups; carer support; befriending services; or any number of different types of help. Please be aware that this is a sourcing (researching) service, and specific types of support may not exist in all areas.

As well as contacting our helpline for emotional support, you can also read our book Coping with Grief online, or call the helpline for a free copy.

2. We provide practical help

Our helpline officers are trained in understanding and assisting with the practical issues that can affect families following a crash. We can provide information, guidance and advocacy to help you to understand and manage these issues in the best way for you and your family:

  • Information and guidance on a range of issues
    The aftermath of a road crash can leave you coping with stressful new experiences, such as navigating the criminal justice system, becoming a carer or facing financial hardship. We can help you to understand criminal justice procedures and other practical matters, further explain any of the information provided in our support guides, talk through any problems you are facing, provide friendly and professional guidance, and signpost you towards specialist sources of additional help and information. Sometimes just discussing these issues with someone experienced in supporting those affected by a road crash can help you to make sense of the problems you are facing and to make decisions about how to move forward.
  • Advocacy and practical assistance when it all feels too much
    Sometimes it can feel just too difficult to approach officials or research sources of help when your world has been turned upside down by a road crash. You may be finding it hard to get answers, or just lacking the energy to make your voice heard due to bereavement or injury. Our helpline officers can assist by liaising with officials on your behalf, whether you are wanting answers from medical staff or a coroner; struggling to tell the bank what has happened; or need to find childcare so that you can attend a trial, we can try to help.
  • Contact with a specialist lawyer
    Families experiencing bereavement and injury following a road crash can find it helpful to seek legal support for a number of different reasons. It may be that you need help finding a will or dealing with probate issues, or there may be financial concerns, for example if someone who contributed to the household income has died or if you are unable to work due to injury or new responsibilities as a carer. There can also be many costs involved in the long-term care and rehabilitation of victims who have suffered a serious injury. Our helpline officers can provide information about seeking legal support and advice, and are able to discuss the best way to source an expert, specialist solicitor, who can talk to you, without obligation, about whether you might be able to claim for damages following a crash. Reputable, specialist solicitors will be able to advise you on whether this is possible or not for your case during a free, initial consultation. Our webpage on Finding appropriate legal support and advice provides further information.
Our support standards and providing feedback
You can read our support service standards, including for our helpline. You can also read comments about our work, and provide feedback. If you wish to make a complaint please read our complaints policy.

 

How we are funded 

MoJ LOGO Funded by UK Gov victim services 2017 18 MoJ grant agreement

The helpline's delivery in England and Wales is supported by a grant from the Ministry of Justice; kind support from the following specialist road crash personal injury solicitors: Slater and Gordon Solicitors, Lyons Davidson Solicitors and Irwin Mitchell Solicitors; and donations from the public and from the following PCC offices:

Bedfordshire PCC Cambridgeshire PCC Cumbria PCC
Derbyshire PCC Devon, Cornwall and The Isle of Scilly PCC Dorset PCC
Dyfed-Powys PCC Essex PCC Hampshire PCC
Kent PCC Northumbria PCC South Yorkshire PCC
Sussex PCC Staffordshire PCC Thames Valley PCC
Warwickshire PCC West Midlands PCC West Yorkshire PCC

The helpline's delivery in Scotland is funded by Digby Brown Solicitors. The helpline's delivery in Northern Ireland is funded by public and corporate donations to Brake. A grant from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office enables us to support people in the UK who have been affected by road death abroad.

If you want to help Brake’s important work
See our fundraising ideas or donate online. You can also read about two of the many bereaved families who have generously helped Brake by reading Katie's story and Jamie's story.

Brake helpline for road crash victims awarded prestigious Helplines Standard

Thursday 12 February 2015

Brake, the road safety charity
news@brake.org.uk 

Brake’s support helpline for bereaved and injured victims left devastated by road crashes has been awarded the Helplines Standard, a nationally recognised mark of quality by Helplines Partnership.

The Standard was awarded following a rigorous assessment of the service. Brake joins a select and broad ranging group of helplines in the UK and Ireland to have achieved the standard, but is the only accredited helpline dedicated to supporting road crash victims and professionals working with them.

Brake’s professionally-delivered helpline (now on Freephone 0808 8000 401) and acclaimed support packs (provided via police following every UK road death) provide emotional comfort, information on wide-ranging practical matters and criminal justice system procedures, advocacy and signposting and referral to further specialist support such as trauma counselling and local group support. The services have been developed and refined in consultation with experts and practitioners over many years to ensure they meet the acute and wide-ranging needs of those whose lives are turned upside down by road death or injury.

Brake’s helpline is available across the UK and offers support and information to anyone bereaved or seriously injured by road crashes, their family and friends, and professionals working with them. Brake works closely with police forces and other practitioners to ensure its support is available and proactively offered to bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims.

Praising Brake’s support services, Helplines Partnership described the helpline as “extremely well organised” and its staff as “passionate”, “empathic”, “highly knowledgeable” and “expertly trained”.

With road casualties on the rise in the UK, Brake’s support services are more in demand than ever. The helpline saw a 42% increase in helpline calls and emails during 2014, up to 2,047, spurred by revised police guidance and the government’s new Victims’ Code, which says bereaved victims of road crime should be referred to specialist support. The helpline supports victims and practitioners in relation to about 500 cases of road death and serious injury each year, with cases up 18% last year.

Brake’s support services are supported by funding from the Ministry of Justice in England and Wales, the Scottish Government in Scotland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and five corporate sponsors:Irwin Mitchell, Pannone (part of Slater & Gordon), Lyons Davidson, Slater & Gordon, and Digby Brown in Scotland.

Practitioners can refer to Brake’s helpline by: providing details to families and explaining what the helpline can offer; providing a victim’s details to the helpline, with their permission, for the helpline to call them at a suitable time; and/or contacting the helpline directly for advice. They can also refer to Brake’s support literature online.

Explore Brake’s support services at www.brake.org.uk/support. Brake'shelpline for bereaved and injured road crash victims can be reached on 0808 8000 401.Tweet us:@Brakecharity.

Sarah Fatica, director of support services, Brake, said:“To attain Helpline Partnership’s quality standard is a fantastic achievement for the Brake helpline and we are extremely proud to secure this on our first attempt. It is testament to the hard work and dedication of our support team when it comes to easing the terrible suffering of bereaved and injured road crash victims.

“Undergoing such a thorough assessment has helped us focus our efforts and ensure that road crash victims receive a thoroughly professional and quality service, providing expert support through people’s darkest hours. Tragically, there are many more people out there who need our help, and we aspire to develop our service further to meet this demand. Our aim is for every person who faces the horror of a road death or serious injury to know we’re here, we understand, and can help them cope with the horrendous circumstances they find themselves in.”

Sarah Hill, head of services, Helplines Partnership, said: “We are proud to congratulate Brake’s helpline for all their hard work in achieving this important quality mark, the Helplines Standard. Our assessment showed a highly organised and professional team with an incredible commitment to the support of road crash victims. I was particularly impressed at how the helpline workers were able to demonstrate delivering detailed information about complex situations in an empathic and sensitive way.”

Notes to editors:

Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaigns, community education, a Fleet Safety Forum, practitioner services, and by coordinating the UK’s flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Helplines Standard

For more information about the Helpline Standard please visit: https://helplines.org/services/quality-standard/

Brake releases new version of acclaimed support pack for bereaved road crash victims

14 February 2014

Brake, the road safety charity
news@brake.org.uk

The charity Brake has released an updated version of its acclaimed support pack for families left devastated by a death on the road in England and Wales. With funding from the Ministry of Justice, the pack has been updated so it's in line with the government's new Victims' Code, which aims to ensure bereaved crime victims get the right support and are treated with respect by criminal justice agencies.

Brake is the national provider of government-funded support literature for families who lose a loved one our roads. Its support packs are handed to bereaved families by police following every UK road death (with separate packs available following road deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland). Brake works with every police force throughout the year to ensure the packs are presented promptly and empathetically following all road deaths, as written into police protocols.

The 2013-14 packs are now being distributed to police forces throughout England and Wales.

An online version of the pack is available at www.brake.org.uk/support, and Brake's helpline (0845 603 8570) offers over-the-phone explanation of information in the packs alongside a range of other professionally-delivered support.

The revised Victims' Code, published in December 2013, recognises bereaved road crime victims as victims of serious crime with particular needs, who should be referred to appropriate support. The change has been welcomed by Brake, having long campaigned through its forgotten victims campaign for greater recognition and help from government for families who suffer the horror of a bereavement or serious injury in a crash.

Brake's support pack, 'Information and advice for bereaved families and friends following death on the road in England and Wales', is a comprehensive resource offering clear, objective information that supports people through one of the most traumatic times imaginable. It is regularly reviewed in consultation with experts, practitioners and victims' feedback.

Having has a loved one suddenly and violently killed, many people will not know where to turn. Brake's pack offers emotional comfort and practical information on matters such as arranging a funeral, the police investigation and criminal proceedings.

Louise Macrae, support service manager, said: "Brake's bereavement packs are a key part of the vital support we provide. For many, in an isolated, bewildering situation, being presented the pack is a signal that they are not alone, that someone cares, and that specialist support is available. It is often referred in feedback from families as a life-line they can turn to again and again. It is often essential in helping a family through horrendous pain and complex procedures, to find hope for the future and a 'new normal'.

"We recently welcomed improvements in the government's Victims' Code, which makes clear all bereaved crime victims have acute support needs and are entitled to appropriate support. We look forward to continuing to build on our excellent relationship with police to ensure all devastated crash victims get the help they need. We encourage FLOs and other support professionals to familiarise themselves with our updated packs, so they can aid families in accessing the specialist information and support available."

Robin Turner, family liaison officer, Cleveland Police Roads Policing Unit, said: "Brake's bereavement pack is invaluable to family liaison officers. Although we are trained to offer advice to families, we cannot be there 24/7. We have confidence that when a family has questions at 3:00am, Brake's literature gives them the guidance that's needed, when it's needed.

"As police officers, we are given guidelines that bereavement packs are issued and explained after every road death. I didn't realise how important this was until I spoke to families in such tragic circumstances. It is only then you appreciate how important the Brake packs are and how much they are relied on. It is not uncommon for the pack to become a permanent fixture on a bedside table. One family described it as 'their bible' after a road death."

Brake
Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (17-23 November 2014), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake's support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

 

Brake support standards

This webpage is sponsored by: 

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Pack covers 2015 2016

Brake takes very seriously the requirement to meet the needs of people bereaved and seriously injured by road crashes, and to provide them with the best quality support we can. This page outlines our objective and aims, and the service standards we aim to meet.

To ensure our service standards are met, Brake maintains internal protocols relating to the aspects of service delivery outlined below, trains staff in these protocols, and monitors output to ensure these standards are complied with. Brake also works to maintain appropriate funding levels and pursues funding as far in advance as possible to enable delivery against these standards, although sometimes we are constrained by a lack, restriction or withdrawal of funds, or uncertainty about future funding. 

You can also read our helpline specification and who we help for more information about our helpline services.

If you have used our victim services, we welcome your feedback. You can provide feedback using our online form. You can view our complaints policy here.

You can also read our guide to government agency codes and standards, which may be relevant to you in the aftermath of a serious road crash. If you would like help understanding any of these, please contact the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401 or helpline@brake.org.uk.

   Brake's victim services objective

Brake's victim services' objective is to help relieve the suffering and assist the recovery of people bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes to enable them to lead positive, healthy and happy lives into the future. We aim to do this through an effective set of services delivered to people who are often in extreme distress and have profound needs, and also delivered to those who come into contact with them and are able to provide additional support, such as police officers, nurses, and family members.

   Brake's victim services aims 

  1. To support victims’ emotional recovery in order to enable them to feel valued, comforted and safe during a time when they are highly vulnerable.
  2. To provide information to facilitate victims’ understanding of often unfamiliar and complex procedures resulting from a crash, and to aid informed choices.
  3. To problem solve and to help to resolve difficulties, by talking through options and by offering and providing as necessary, advocacy relating to practical and procedural difficulties victims are facing, in order to help reduce the stresses that such issues can place on victims at the worst possible time.
  4. To help victims to identify and acknowledge any medium to long term psychological or physical symptoms, including trauma symptoms, from which they or their loved ones may be suffering and help them to seek and access appropriate assessments and treatment from the NHS and other sources to alleviate these symptoms.
  5. To facilitate access, where appropriate and where possible, to agencies and services which are able to provide face to face or specialist support which complements the support provided by Brake’s helpline and to signpost victims to relevant services and experts, nationally and locally, to assist in their overall recovery, and to help support their practical and emotional needs.
  6. To provide support and information to people caring for, and professionals working with, bereaved or injured road crash victims.

Most people using Brake's victim services have a combination of needs relating to two or three of these areas. Different needs emerge in different ways and at different times. Services offered to meet these needs are:

  • Support over the phone or by email from a Brake helpline officer;
  • Information provision through Brake’s websites and support literature, for adults and children;
  • Information and problem solving over the phone or by email from a helpline officer;
  • Advocacy on procedural issues, through phone liaison and email/written correspondence between a helpline officer and external agencies on behalf of the victim;
  • Appropriate face to face support provided by local agencies, sourced by a Brake helpline officer;
  • Support over the phone from a Brake volunteer, who has been bereaved in a similar way and has made a good recovery, facilitated by a helpline officer;
  • Exploration, identification, assessment and treatment of on-going psychological and physical symptoms suffered by the victim due to the crash, through liaison between the victim, the helpline officer, the NHS and other agencies.

   Brake’s road crash victim support literature standards

Brake has been producing support literature for people bereaved and injured in road crashes and their carers, and supporting these people through our helpline and associated services, for many years to great acclaim. To deliver high quality, accessible services that are relevant, appropriate and useful for bereaved and injured crash victims, Brake adheres to the below standards.

Brake victim support literature: 

  1. is written in plain, simple, concise English, so it is as easy to understand as possible.
  2. is objective; Brake does not express subjective opinion through its victim support literature.
  3. provides information and advice, so that service users can make informed choices, rather than instructing and leading service users towards a particular course of action.
  4. is checked and updated regularly, in consultation with relevant experts, so the content is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, within the constraints of our funding.
  5. covers a comprehensive range of topics that are relevant to the type of service user at which it is aimed, while also being as concise as possible.
  6. is distributed as widely as possible to the type of service user it is aimed at, within the constraints of our funding, and made as accessible as possible to those who would benefit from it, including being available on our website.
  7. is available in alternative formats as much as possible, within the constraints of our funding. Most notably all information in Brake’s literature is available over the phone (via Brake's helpline). Some literature is available in different languages or in audio version, although this is subject to funding availability.
  8. is presented in a professional, high-quality format, which acknowledges the way the literature is used, to support accessibility and ease of use, including quality design and materials, and use of correct language.

   Brake's helpline standards

Brake operates a helpline contacted by hundreds of people every year who have been affected by a road death or serious injury, and professionals who work with and care for these victims.

Brake’s helpline officers:

  1. will respond to service users who leave an answerphone message or email helpline@brake.org.uk within one working day (Monday-Friday) of their message unless otherwise stated.
  2. will use careful listening and straightforward questioning to identify individual service users' needs, so the support provided can be tailored to these needs, while respecting a service user’s right to say as much or as little as they choose.
  3. will use plain English and the use of additional tools such as Brake’s road crash victim support literature to aid understanding of information being provided.
  4. will put the services user’s needs at the heart of their work, prioritising these needs at all times, in line with the aims of Brake’s support services.
  5. will explain clearly the services available and the limitations of those services, so service users understand what is and isn’t available.
  6. are paid professionals, experienced in helping people in distress and trained in the needs of victims of road death and injury. 
  7. work to strict confidentiality, data protection and safeguarding protocols. This requires Brake’s helpline to maintain the confidentiality of any service user unless a service user agrees to particular information sharing in order to enable advocacy on their behalf, or unless there are extreme concerns relating to their immediate safety or the safety of others. Copies of Brake's victim service policies on confidentiality, data protection and safeguarding can be obtained by emailing admin@brake.org.uk.

Brake's 'I've been there' service

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This service enables you to talk over the phone to another bereaved or injured person who is a Brake volunteer. The call will take place at an agreed time, and your details will remain confidential. The volunteer will not talk in detail about their own case, but they will be able to listen to you with a deep understanding of what you are going through, answer any questions you may have about how they coped with different aspects of their experience, and talk to you about how they found it possible to feel happiness again. Please note that this is not a befriender service, and it will not usually be possible to speak to a volunteer more than once.

Calls are facilitated and connected by your Brake helpline officer, and the bereaved or injured person you speak to will not know your full name nor be given your phone number. 

While you are talking to the Brake volunteer, a helpline officer will be listening in, aiming to ensure that the call is meeting your needs and if necessary helping to steer the conversation in a helpful direction (although generally they will be a silent partner in the call).

Brake helpline officers try to 'match' your circumstances to those of the Brake volunteer you speak to. So, for example, if you have suffered the death of a child, they will try to match you with another bereaved parent.

Calls generally last up to an hour, and you are welcome to end the call at any time you feel it is appropriate or if the conversation is not proving helpful to you.

To request this service, please call the helpline on 0808 8000 401 or email helpline@brake.org.uk.

Broadcaster, Adrian Chiles

adrian-chiles“I am proud to help pledge my support to the life-saving work that Brake does. As a dad, I urge all drivers to think about the safety of kids when they’re driving through a community. Everyone can help look out for our kids by slowing down - it’s a simple step, but a crucial one.”

Can I claim compensation?

Information and advice on claiming compensation; hiring a solicitor to pursue compensation; rogue offers of help; paying your solicitor; types of compensation; fatal motor claim procedures.

Can I claim compensation?

There is no automatic compensation for people bereaved by a road crash. However, compensation can often be awarded through a legal process using civil law, pursued by a solicitor you hire.

To award compensation, civil law requires someone (usually a driver in the case of road deaths) to be found at least partly responsible for a death. Sometimes this is possible even if no-one was charged with a criminal offence.

Compensation is then usually paid by the responsible person’s motor insurer. If they were uninsured, or are untraceable, then the money is usually paid by an organisation called the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. (Find out more at www.mib.org.uk.)

Compensation can be awarded for different things (see below). The amount of compensation awarded for these things is usually decided through negotiation, but sometimes by a court (see below).

Even if you do not have funds to pay a solicitor, it is often still possible to pursue a claim for compensation if you have a good claim (see below).

Hiring a solicitor to pursue compensation

To pursue compensation, you need to hire a solicitor.

You are advised to use a solicitor with a specialism in fatal motor compensation claims. The following organisations provide lists of these solicitors:

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL)
www.apil.org.uk T: 0115 958 0585

The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS)
www.mass.org.uk T: 0117 925 9604

A solicitor you are considering using should agree to meet with you for free initially. You may wish to meet with more than one solicitor to ensure you are choosing the best one for you.

Here are some questions it is advisable to ask, to help you decide which solicitor to choose:

  • 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? (See below for more information on paying your solicitor.)
  • 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?

It is important you sign an agreement with your solicitor that you understand thoroughly and consider fair.

It is also helpful to keep notes of conversations with your solicitor and copies of correspondence so you can keep track of your claim.

Do not delay

Do not delay consulting solicitors. If you have a good chance of compensation, the solicitor you choose 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. Most claims for money must be submitted within three years, although sometimes claims must be made within two years. If the crash occurred abroad, time limits for claims may be shorter, and can be one year or less.

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.

If you have a complaint about a personal injury solicitor, you can complain to the Law Society of Northern Ireland. Call 028 9023 1614 or go to www.lawsoc-ni.org.

Rogue offers of help

Someone called a claims assessor, or claims farmer, or a claims management company (CMC), may offer to pursue your claim for you, often on a no win, no fee basis. They are not personal injury solicitors, nor qualified or regulated to the standards of solicitors.

You may also be approached by someone representing the motor insurance company of a driver you want to claim from, offering to settle your claim directly and quickly with you, without the need for you to hire a solicitor.

Do not accept these offers of help. If you do, you will not be independently represented by a suitably qualified solicitor, and you may be awarded far less compensation than you are due.

Paying your solicitor

There are various ways of funding a claim and it is crucial you talk to your solicitor about the options available. Make sure you understand exactly what you may have to pay for if you win or lose your claim.

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.

Types of compensation

Types of claims for compensation are listed below. Your solicitor may advise you to make one, several or none of these claims. All claims depend on liability being established.

  1. Dependency claims

In certain circumstances, people who were financially reliant on a person who has died can claim for the loss of that support. This is called a dependency claim. The amount that can be claimed is not fixed. It depends on the amount of support provided by the person who has died.

A dependency claim often includes a claim for loss of income. This amount will be worked out according to how much the person who has died earned, how long they would have continued earning if they had not died and other factors.

A dependency claim may include a claim for loss of services provided, such as childcare, DIY, or other domestic jobs which were undertaken by a person who has died.

If you are making a dependency claim for yourself, or on behalf of others such as a child, your solicitor will help you consider all losses and help work out how much to claim in total. Evidence including employment records and household bills is required to prove dependency claims.

  1. Bereavement awards

Some people may be entitled to a bereavement award, currently £14,400. Your solicitor can tell you if you are eligible for this award.

  1. The shock suffered by bereaved people

You may be able to claim money for the psychiatric effects of the shock you have suffered as a result of your bereavement. There are strict criteria about who can claim. If you do not meet these criteria you may not be able to claim, even though you have suffered significant trauma.

  1. The suffering of someone who has died

If someone died after suffering a period of pain then it may be possible to claim money in compensation for that suffering. The amount that can be claimed is based on the amount of time that the person suffered and the extent of the pain.

  1. Burial or cremation expenses

Reasonable costs of the burial or cremation and associated expenses such as a gravestone can usually be claimed from a liable party. Keep all receipts.

  1. Claim for injuries

If you, or anyone close to you, was injured in the crash, it is important to find out if you can make a claim for those injuries and losses resulting from injuries. Your solicitor will advise you.

Fatal motor claim procedures

Preparing and negotiating your claim

Your solicitor will prepare your claim by collecting evidence, such as proof of past earning levels of the person who died.

Once your solicitor has prepared your claim, they will contact the motor insurer of the person from whom you are trying to claim (the other side).

If the other side admits liability and agrees to pay you money, it may make an offer, or several offers, which are lower than the amount your solicitor thinks you are due and has asked for. For example, if you are pursuing a loss of support claim, the other side may use information in medical and employment records of the person who has died to argue your claim is too high.

Most claims in which liability is admitted are settled through negotiation, without the need to go to court. You can refuse or accept any offer made. Your solicitor will advise you whether an offer is reasonable.

Knowing that lawyers and insurance companies are negotiating over the value of your loss can be distressing, particularly if your case takes time to be resolved. Ask your lawyer to keep you updated on a regular basis about how your case is progressing.

Offers made during negotiation

Both your solicitor, and the other side, can make offers of compensation during negotiations.

Either side has a right to accept or reject an offer. Your solicitor should explain any offer you receive, and help you decide your response.

In some cases a partial payment called an Interim Payment is made by the other side prior to a final payment, to help cover costs such as funeral expenses. This can be helpful for people facing financial hardship as a result of their bereavement.

Either side may also propose a Final Settlement offer, or Part 36 offer, in full and final settlement of your claim. If the other side proposes a Part 36 offer, you and your solicitor have 21days to accept or reject it (although an offer can be accepted later if it has not been withdrawn). You should consider all offers seriously.

Going to court

If your compensation cannot be agreed through negotiation, or if liability is not admitted, your solicitor may start legal action against the other side.

However, even after legal action has started, your solicitor is likely to continue to try to negotiate a settlement with the other side.

Sometimes, the other side will make an acceptable offer just before a case is heard in court.

If agreement cannot be reached, your claim will be heard in a County Court or the High Court by a judge.

Success in court is not guaranteed; you cannot pre-determine the decision of a judge. Court cases may also take a long time to be heard.

Cases brought on behalf of children are always decided in court. In most cases, money awarded to children is kept and administered by the court in a special account until the child is 18 years old.


Go to the next section of this guide: Useful Organisations or return to the contents page.

 

Celebrity Supporters

Brake is backed by many celebrities who believe in the cause and the charity's work. Thank you for your support! 

lorraine-kelly Lorraine Kelly, TV presenter
As a mum, I am delighted to add my voice to Brake's campaign to urge parents to do their bit and ensure our children are safe while out walking or cycling.
jacqueline-wilson Jacqueline Wilson, children's author
Children should be able to get out and about on foot and bicycles - it's crucial for their health, well-being and social development. Yet, as a nation, we are failing to protect our children on roads.
eddie-irvine Eddie Irvine, Formula One racing driver
I get my kicks on the track not on the road. Speeding in built up areas puts children's lives at risk.
daniel-brocklebank Daniel Brocklebank, Actor
A good friend of mine was killed age 20 as a passenger with a drink-driver - someone who was supposed to be her friend. I know how the sudden death of a young person in a road crash sends shock waves through the whole community.
craig-phillips Craig Phillips, winner of Big Brother, series one
I know all too well what drinking and driving can do. It kills and devastates families. My father was killed in a drink-drive crash when I was a child.
natasha-hamilton Natasha Hamilton, singer with Atomic Kitten
As a mum, and someone who was knocked down and injured by a car as a child, I give my full support to Brake's campaign to make our roads safer for children.
nick-ross Nick Ross, journalist and broadcaster
Road deaths are the forgotten epidemic - killing more young people in the UK and across the globe than anything else. But it's an epidemic that we can all do something about - road safety is a shared responsibility.
dick-dom Dick and Dom, children's TV presenters
Our message to kids is simple: it's alright to mess about at home, in the playground or the park, but you should never do it near roads.
danny-crates Danny Crates, Paralympic Gold Medalist
I was just 21 when I lost my arm as a result of a road crash in 1994. My life is great now, but it could have been a lot easier with two arms. Young people should do everything they can to keep themselves safe on the roads.
adrian-chiles Broadcaster, Adrian Chiles
I am proud to help pledge my support to the life-saving work that Brake does. As a dad, I urge all drivers to think about the safety of kids when they're driving through a community.
nicola-cooke Nicole Cooke, Gold Medal Winner, Beijing Olympics 2008
When I race all I think about is speed! How to go faster or be at the limit but in sport, just like in every day life I can not go over the limit of what is safe because it may end in disaster, either in a crash or putting others in danger.
tony-mowbray Football Manager, Tony Mowbray
Statistics show far too many young lads are gambling with their lives and those of their mates by taking risks on the road. I know from my own playing days, and working with footballers now, that most young men enjoy being active and playing sports with their friends and cannot imagine having a life-long disability.

rebecca romero

Olympic Cyclist, Rebecca Romero
It's tragic so many cyclists lose their lives each year by being hit by commercial vehicles, often as a result of the driver failing to see them – yet many of these tragedies could be prevented by devices fitted to vehicles to reduce blind spots. I'm backing Brake's campaign calling on all commercial vehicle operators to fit devices that help drivers spot people on bikes and on foot

elise sherwell

Cyclist, Elise Sherwell
Given that we want to get more people cycling, we have to make it safer; changing the law so trucks have to fit the latest blind spot equipment is surely crucial to this

andy tennant

Olympic Cyclist, Andy Tennant
We need more safe routes for cycling, but drivers can also play a key part in making our streets safer, and help nurture the future of British cycling, by always looking out for cyclists and driving below 20mph around homes and schools

 

   
   
   

Charity of the Year

Make Brake your Charity of the Year

A charity of the year partnership is a great way to unite and motivate employees. Brake can provide you with our experience in this area, ensuring you COTY2have access to lots of charity fundraising resources, ideas and support to build a successful partnership with us that benefits both Brake and you. 

Why support Brake?
Every day, five UK police officers have to break the news to five families, that their loved one has been killed in a road crash.   A further 70 families every day learn that their loved one has been seriously injured, with many suffering brain damage, paralysis or limb loss.  

Brake is a national charity dedicated to preventing these road deaths and injuries from happening and to providing support for people bereaved or injured in road crashes.  

We work with different road users – from children and their parents, to young people learning to drive, to people who drive for work. We produce resources, run training and events and deliver community engagement project which raise awareness about road safety.   Brake’s support division is the national provider of support for road crash victims helping families whose lives have been devastated by a sudden death or serious injury.  It offers emotional support and practical information through a helpline and through support literature that is handed out by police following every fatal road crash in the UK.

Dedicated partnership managerCOTY 1
As your Charity of the Year, Brake will provide you with a dedicated member of staff who will work closely with you to design a partnership that meets your vision.

Tailored partnership
Brake would be delighted to build a bespoke partnership with your organisation, working with you on any specific needs and objectives you may have and helping to help you meet your corporate social responsibility objectives. 

We have a wide range of resources and fundraising materials which will help you promote events internally and externally., We will provide exciting and motivating fundraising and engagement ideas that met the aims of our relationship. Your partnership manager will work closely with you to create a bespoke calendar of activities for your staff to get involved, whatever their interests, from challenge events to in-house office fundraising ideas, we have something for everyone.

Why have a Charity of the Year?
Encouraging your staff to get behind a common goal helps with motivation and team bonding.   By selecting a Charity of the Year, you’re demonstrating to staff, customers, suppliers and your local community that you are an ethical business committed to giving back to society. By selecting Brake, you’re supporting a cause that affects everyone.  Whether a driver, cyclist or a pedestrian, or indeed all of these, everyone is affected by road safety and everyone benefits from increased awareness about the ways we can all keep each other safe when out and about.

For more information
If you are interested in knowing more about how you can partner with us please email  fundraise@brake.org.uk or ring Lisa on 01484 683294

 

 

Coping with emotions and feelings

Coping with how you feel emotionally

When someone is seriously injured in a road crash, it is traumatic for the person injured and their close family and friends. People react in many ways and it is natural and normal to experience strong feelings.

This section outlines some feelings you and your loved ones may experience and provides practical advice to help you cope. While physical injuries will be the over-riding concern, it is important to give feelings the attention they deserve too. Strong feelings can lead to serious medical conditions, such as depression. With good support, these conditions are less likely to develop, or can be identified early and appropriate care provided.

I can’t believe it has happened

It can be very hard to come to terms with the shock; the fact that the crash has really happened. Shock can be particularly hard to bear if the crash has resulted in life-changing injuries, shortened life, or if someone died in the crash. It may all seem unfair; ‘why has this happened?’ is a common thought.

It is common to mull over the circumstances leading up to the crash and wonder if you, or others, could have done anything to stop it happening. ‘If only…’ is a usual and particularly painful thought process.

What you can do
Seek immediate support from the people around you

Many people find it difficult to share their feelings with others. However, sharing feelings does help, particularly with close family and friends who may be experiencing similar feelings.

Sometimes, family and friends find it challenging to share thoughts with each other because they are trying to be “strong” for each other, or for other reasons to do with their relationships with each other. However, mutual support can be very helpful, and stop you feeling a sense of isolation.

If you can’t share your thoughts with someone close to you, or you find that this doesn’t help, seek help from someone who can provide a confidential, listening ear and comfort you. This could be a local counsellor, doctor, teacher, spiritual leader, or some other responsible member of your community who you know and trust.

Crying often helps when talking about what you are going through. It is usually better to express your feelings than try to hold back tears.

I have very strong feelings

Sometimes, feelings experienced may be strong, and at times over-powering and exhausting.

Anger is a common feeling. It is common to feel angry if someone is being held responsible for the crash. It is common to feel angry with society for not treating road safety seriously enough. This can be particularly hard to bare if you are not used to feeling angry.

It is also common to feel angry at other people who say things that you rightly consider inappropriate or who even behave as if nothing has happened. (This is usually because they are afraid they may say the wrong thing.) You may feel that “nobody understands”.

Anxiety is another common feeling. It is common to feel worried and suffer feelings of panic. You may worry about the safety of yourself or other loved ones, particularly on the road but also generally. You may be scared about what the future may hold

Stresses previously taken as being part of life can sometimes become unbearable. You may get upset at small things as well as the big things. You may feel tense or restless. You may also find you forget things and have difficulty concentrating.

Some people feel as though the future is bleak. They feel there can’t ever be a time when it will be possible to feel happiness again. Plans for the future may be wrecked.

Some days may feel much worse than others. Some people feel like they are on a rollercoaster of emotions.

What you can do
Understand these feelings are normal, keep talking, and take your time

An important way to cope with such strong feelings is to understand they are symptoms resulting from what has happened. It is not your fault that you are feeling this way, and it is normal in the circumstances. These feelings are not part of your character, and, if you take care of yourself and seek support, they can subside over time and be replaced by more positive feelings.

Treat yourself to simple comforts that are likely to make you feel a tiny bit better or calmer. This could be as simple as a cup of tea, listening to calm music, or sitting in the sun for ten minutes.

Some people find that being creative helps them to be calm. For example, writing, drawing or mounting photographs can be positive, peaceful activities. Find something small to look forward to, such as a visit from a friend.

It is easier to make mistakes at times of severe stress. Take extra time and care if you or a loved one is driving, cooking, or doing other potentially dangerous jobs. Try to avoid making big, difficult decisions. Treat yourself gently.

For some people, it is tempting to resort to alcohol or illegal drugs. However, these are stimulants that do not help, and have damaging consequences. Tranquilisers prescribed by a doctor may be helpful in the short term but some can become addictive and are not a long term solution.

It can help to explain to other people how you are feeling so they are not surprised if you display these feelings around them. If you work, it can help to talk to your employer and colleagues. If you are at school, it can help to explain things to your teacher and friends. Enable these people to give you the time and space you deserve.

There has been no justice

Some people affected by a road crash are unhappy with the punishment given to someone who was held to blame, or the outcome of a claim for compensation. It can also be hard to bear if there is no-one to blame, or if you, or a loved one, was in some way to blame.

You may have other on-going concerns that have direct impact on your emotional well-being, such as issues around appropriate housing for someone with life-changing injuries.

What you can do
Seek support from relevant organisations

Brake’s helpline can provide practical assistance if you feel you need help getting justice, or help liaising with a relevant authority.

My symptoms are extreme and not going away

Some people suffer extreme emotional symptoms and / or physical symptoms. This includes flashbacks, when you feel the crash is happening again, or extremely vivid and scary thoughts and dreams. Other people suffer suicidal feelings on a regular basis.

Physical symptoms resulting from emotional stress include problems eating, problems sleeping, or aches and pains not related to any injury. Some people develop problems such as a stutter, or suffer from shaking limbs, or develop a phobia, such as an inability to leave the house. Other people may struggle to get out of bed and do day-to-day tasks due to emotional upset.

Such symptoms usually fade away with support and care, but sometimes they don’t. If your symptoms are still extreme and have been continuing for more than a month, it is important to seek professional help.

What you can do
Seek professional help

Usually, appropriate treatment is regular sessions of confidential counselling, over many weeks, with an appropriately qualified counsellor who is experienced in helping people who have suffered a traumatic event. Often this counselling is referred to as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This kind of counselling is appropriate whether you are an adult or a child.

You may find that hospital staff or your GP offer you the chance to see a counsellor for free. It is, however, important to ensure they are offering you a service provided by a counsellor who is appropriately qualified and experienced, and also is available soon. It is not a good idea to delay getting this support, or to agree to support from someone who is not qualified or experienced in treating people who have suffered a major traumatic event.

The NHS often has waiting lists; but your needs are important, now. Ask your GP to ensure you are seen as soon as possible. If you think you need help seeking the right support, quickly, call the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401. Brake can liaise, on your behalf, with medical practitioners to seek the support you need.

It is usually appropriate that, firstly, you have your symptoms identified and assessed. This may result in you being diagnosed as suffering from a condition such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression. NHS guidelines on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guideline no. 26) can be viewed at www.nice.org.uk.

Being diagnosed with a condition does not mean you are a weak person. Such conditions are normal following a traumatic event, and it is possible to treat these conditions successfully. This treatment is likely to include at least ten counselling sessions, and often more. Drug treatments can help some people but are not recommended by the NHS as preferable to talk-based therapy.

If you cannot obtain help quickly through the NHS, you may wish to consider paying for private treatment. Sometimes this is possible to fund as part of a claim for compensation.

Lists of providers of therapists who can assess your needs, some through the NHS, some privately, are available from the following organisations:

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy

United Kingdom Psychological Trauma Society

If you are feeling suicidal, call The Samaritanson 0845 790 9090. The Samaritans is a counselling line, open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for anyone in need. It is staffed by trained volunteers. You can also email jo@samaritans.org

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

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.

 

Craig Phillips, winner of Big Brother, series one

craig-phillipsCraig Phillips won the first series of the British reality TV show Big Brother in 2000. He has also appeared in comedy show Bo’ Selecta and has presented several other TV programmes. Craig lends his support to Brake’s work. His father was killed in a drink-drive crash when he was a child.

Craig says: “I know all too well what drinking and driving can do. It kills and devastates families. My father was killed in a drink-drive crash when I was a child. Somebody’s deadly decision to have a drink and then get behind the wheel tragically cut short my father’s life, left my mother without her husband and my sister and I without a father. My message is simple: if you’ve been drinking, don’t drive, and if you’re planning to drive, don’t drink.”

Daniel Brocklebank, Actor

daniel-brocklebankDaniel Brocklebank, the Birmingham based actor lends his support to Brake. Daniel is mostly recognised for his work in Emmerdale and the acclaimed movie Shakespeare In Love. Daniel’s close friend Kelly was killed by a drink driver in 2005.

Daniel says: “A good friend of mine was killed age 20 as a passenger with a drink-driver - someone who was supposed to be her friend. I know how the sudden death of a young person in a road crash sends shock waves through the whole community - not to mention the terrible grief caused to the family. I find it shocking that so many young people are willing to gamble with their own lives and those of their friends by risk-taking behind the wheel. It’s time we worked as a community to put a stop to this waste of young lives. And it’s time young people woke up to the realities of road crashes and committed to a few basic safe driving rules - like never driving on drink or drugs, never speeding, and always belting up.”

Danny Crates, Paralympic Gold Medalist

danny-cratesAt the 2004 Paralympic Games Danny Crates won a gold medal in the 800m T46 race with a time of just 1 minute 57.9 seconds. Danny is disabled as a result of a car crash in Australia. Danny has leant his support to Brake’s 2Young2Die young driver safety campaign and its work to educate young people.

Danny says: “I was just 21 when I lost my arm as a result of a road crash in 1994. My life is great now, but it could have been a lot easier with two arms. Young people should do everything they can to keep themselves safe on the roads. I hope that Brake’s young driver education programmes will help prevent other young people suffering the same injuries that have affected me and some of my Paralympic colleagues”.

Dick and Dom, children's TV presenters

dick-domChildren’s TV stars Dick and Dom (Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood) are backing Brake’s Watch Out There’s a Kid About! campaign as part of National Road Safety Week 2007.

Dick and Dom say: “Our message to kids is simple: it’s alright to mess about at home, in the playground or the park, but you should never do it near roads. Taking care around traffic is a serious business and we think it’s great that Brake is working with schools and families to help kids stay safe. We’re also calling on mums, dads and all drivers to slow down around schools and homes to help make your community a safer place. Kids have the right to walk or cycle to school or to see friends without their lives being endangered.”

Emotions and feelings

helplinenewThe death of someone close in a road crash is devastating. It is not only incredibly sad, but it is also the worst shock of all. This page lists emotions and feelings often experienced in addition to sadness. Knowing these emotions and feelings are normal at this time may, in a small but significant way, help you to cope with them.

Pages on 'Getting through each day' and 'Getting help from others' provide advice on getting through each day and seeking help from others.

I can’t believe it has happened
It is common to feel as if it has not really happened – to expect a person who has died to walk through the door or call on the phone. It is common to find yourself talking about a person as if they are still alive.

It can be particularly hard to bear each morning when waking up and realising it is true. It may seem so unfair. ‘Why has this happened to me?’ is a common thought.

I feel helpless
It is common to feel helpless, bewildered, powerless and overwhelmed. This can be upsetting and debilitating.

It may be hard to get up and get on with normal activities.

You may also find yourself making simple mistakes when doing the simplest things.

It is wise to avoid high risk activities such as driving or using dangerous machinery, or be extra careful if you feel you have to do these things.

I feel scared
You may feel anxious and fearful. It is normal to worry more than usual that other people, or you, will die too.

It is common to be scared to go out. It is common to suffer feelings of panic, anxiety and confusion if in a busy environment such as around roads or in a shopping centre or train station. You may feel jumpy and nervous in such situations.

'Getting through each day'gives advice about planning and getting through each day.

Frightening thoughts, dreams or flashbacks
Vivid thoughts and dreams about the crash, the person who has died, or a fear, are common.

Flashbacks to the time when the death happened, or when you heard about it, may be experienced. This means it feels like it is happening again. Not everyone suffers flashbacks, but if you do, they may happen at any time and be frightening.

Many people find it helps to talk about thoughts, dreams or flashbacks. 'Getting help from others' gives advice about talking to others.

If only...
It is common to keep mulling over the circumstances leading up to the death and wondering if anything could have been done to stop it happening. ‘If only...’ is a common and particularly painful thought.

Suddenly bereaved people often wish they had told a person who has died how much they love them, or told them this more often.

Thoughts like these may lead to strong feelings of guilt that can be hard to explain to others.

Crying may help – many people find it is better to express feelings than to hold back the tears.

I forget things and am disorganised
Because of the enormous stress you are suffering, it may be hard to take in information you are told, or recall important facts, remember to do things, or do things as well as you would at other times.

This can be particularly challenging if you are involved in procedures such as organising a funeral, understanding the findings of a post-mortem examination, or the processing of someone’s will.

It can also be challenging if you have to work, or have domestic responsibilities such as caring for dependents.

If anyone else can help you, let them share the work.

Suddenly bereaved people are often scared they will forget things about the person who has died. They are scared they will forget their voice, things they said, or how they smelt. There are suggestions about how to keep someone’s memory alive in the next section.

I feel angry
It is common to feel angry. There may be someone or something to blame for the crash. Or you may even feel angry towards the person who has died for leaving you.

It is also common to get worked up over minor everyday things that normally you take in your stride, but now seem unbearable.

For people who do not normally get angry, these feelings may be particularly distressing.

Anger is a normal emotion and nothing to feel guilty about. However, if you are concerned that your anger is being taken out on people close to you, there is advice in the sections 'Getting through each day'  and 'Getting help from others'.

Nobody understands
People might say inappropriate, hurtful things to you such as ‘these things happen’, or ‘you’ll get over it’.

They may talk about their own bereavements that happened in circumstances you consider less devastating and of no relevance to your situation.

Some people may even behave as if nothing has happened.

These people may want to help, but not know how. Many people can help. 'Getting help from others' gives suggestions on how to seek constructive help from others.

Physical symptoms
Many people who suffer a sudden bereavement and the associated shock find they suffer from physical symptoms, as well as strong emotions.

The trauma of your experience can place intense and prolonged pressure on your body. Heart palpitations, feeling faint or dizzy, excessive sweating, tremors and choking sensations are common.

Digestive problems may occur, such as diarrhoea, or you may struggle to eat well or often enough. Muscles may tense up. This may cause localised pains, such as headaches, stomach pains and backache, or a sense of heaviness or weakness. Women may have periods at unusual times or suffer extra pain during their period.

You may have difficulty sleeping. This may lead to tiredness and exhaustion. You may feel like you can’t do anything, or even feel hyperactive.

You may have difficulty speaking. Stuttering and jumbling your words is common.

Whatever your physical symptoms, understanding they are connected to your bereavement can help you cope with them. Over time they should subside. The sections 'Getting through each day'  and 'Getting help from others' include useful advice on recovery.

Lost and different futures
When someone dies suddenly who was at the centre of your world, the future can seem pointless and bleak. Your plans and hopes may be ruined, and your deep sadness means it may be difficult to imagine a different yet happy future.

The stress of sudden bereavement can also be so exhausting that every day can feel like an impossible mountain to climb.

It is important to know that you can recover from the shock by looking after yourself and seeking help.

Many people also find it helpful to know it is normal for suddenly bereaved people to go on to lead full and happy lives, while still remembering with sorrow what happened.

Click to go to the next section of this guide: Getting through each day or to go to the contents page for Coping with Grief.