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

Your Witness Care Unit contact or your police contact should tell you the date, location and outcome of any criminal court hearing within one working day of knowing the date themselves.

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 the number of seats available may be limited.

See below for more information about who can help you prepare for a court visit and support you in court. If you are unsure who is going to help you, or what will happen, talk to your police contact.

The police and Witness Care Units are required to meet certain standards, that aim to help victims of crime. These standards are written into the government document called ‘Code of practice for victims of crime’ (Victims’ Code). You can access this document at

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 an accused person or their friends. If the accused is on bail, they will be able to use the public areas of the court.

You may want to avoid being in the same space as the accused. Some courts can provide a quiet room for victims to sit and wait for the court hearing. You can ask court staff or the Witness Service if this is possible.

Someone from the Witness Service may be able to accompany you if you need to use the same public areas as the accused.

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.

You are usually allowed to take notes in court, but sometimes there are legal reasons that prevent this. You should check with court staff first. You are not allowed to take photos or make sound recordings. You should switch off your phone or other devices before you enter the courtroom.

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 (see Section 3: Criminal investigations and charges). In some cases, this statement can be used as your evidence in court. In other cases, you may have to give evidence in court.

If you are asked to be a witness, it may help to have support.

Support for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses

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

  • screening (so you and the defendant cannot see each other)
  • 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)
  • 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 witness care officer.

The CPS 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. You may be able to practise using special measures during a court visit before the trial.

Support in court

Attending a court hearing or being a witness in court is a new experience for most people. The following may be able to help you prepare for a visit to court or support you in court.

  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS should provide someone to help you understand what is happening in court and answer your questions about court procedures. Your police contact can help you arrange this. The CPS is committed to treating all witnesses in court with respect and sensitivity. This is written into the government documents called ‘Code of practice for victims of crime’ and ‘Victims and witnesses: Care and treatment’. You can access these documents at
  • Witness Care Units. Witness Care Units provide information and support to victims and witnesses in cases progressing through the criminal justice system. Witness Care Units are run jointly by the CPS and the police.
  • Witness care officer. You should be assigned a witness care officer to help you and give you information about what will happen in court. The witness care officer works for the Witness Care Unit.
  • The Witness Service. The Witness Service may be able to help you prepare for court and support you in court. The service is run by Citizens Advice and is free and confidential. Your Witness Care Unit or police contact can refer you to the Witness Service or you can refer yourself. To get help from the Witness Service, call 0300 332 1000 or go to

For more advice on how to access support in court, call Brake’s National Road Victim Service on 0808 8000 401 or email

To get more information about being a witness, go to and search for ‘witness’. If you don’t have access to the internet, or need this information in a different language, ask your witness care officer.

The criminal justice system is required to meet certain standards of care for people who have witnessed a crime. These standards are written into the government document called ‘The Witness Charter’. You can access this document at


Court procedures

There are three kinds of offence and these can be heard in different courts.

  • Summary offences. Summary offences are heard at a Magistrates' Court. A Magistrates' Court can sentence offenders to up to six months in prison (or 12 months in some cases) and an unlimited fine.
  • Indictable offences. Indictable offences are heard at a Crown Court. A Crown Court can impose more severe sentences.
  • ‘Either way’ offences. An either way offence can be heard in a Magistrates’ Court or a Crown Court. A more serious either way offence may be heard by the Crown 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, which are also called ‘preliminary hearings’.

These short hearings give lawyers an opportunity to talk about any legal issues that may affect the case and discuss the availability of witnesses.

The aim of these hearings is to help a trial proceed smoothly without unnecessary delays. No witnesses will be called at these hearings.

Cases can take a long time to come to court. This may be because witnesses need to be traced or documents need to be obtained, or for other reasons. Court hearings may also start late, be cut short or be postponed.

Your witness care 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 magistrates. Magistrates are trained volunteers who normally sit in twos or threes with one as chairperson. They sit with a legal adviser who is a qualified lawyer. The legal adviser gives the magistrates advice about the 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 able to plead guilty by completing a form and posting it to the court instead of attending court.

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. In some cases, a trained representative who is not a lawyer may speak for the CPS. The defendant may choose to speak for themself.

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. Witnesses may include police crash investigation officers or someone who witnessed a crash.

Photographs, videos and diagrams may be shown. Both sides can ask questions or put statements to witnesses. 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.

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 a 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, a defendant must appear at least once in a Magistrates’ Court, where the charge is read out.

If a defendant is being charged with an ‘either way’ offence that will be heard in the Crown Court, the defendant will usually appear once in the Magistrates’ Court before the case moves to the Crown Court. Sometimes 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.

  • If a defendant pleads not guilty, the first hearing at Crown Court should take place about four weeks after they appear at a Magistrates’ Court.
  • If a defendant pleads guilty to an 'either way' offence in the Magistrates’ 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. Sometimes the judge will set a date for this to happen at a second hearing.

  • If a defendant pleads guilty, the judge will sentence them. 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. Witnesses may include police crash investigation officers or someone who witnessed a crash.

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.

Youth Courts

If a young person aged between 10 and 17 is charged with one or more criminal offences, their case will be heard in a Youth Court.

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 found guilty of a criminal offence they may be sent to:

  • a Young Offenders Institution (YOI) if they are aged between 15 and 20 and the court considers the offence serious enough. A YOI is a secure facility like a prison – inmates cannot leave until they are released.
  • a Secure Children’s Home (if aged between 10 and 16)
  • a Secure Training Centre (if aged between 12 and 17).

For more information about sentences for young people who commit criminal offences, go to and search for 'youth justice board'.


Verdicts and sentencing

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 may happen. 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).

A person who is found guilty of committing a crime is called an offender.

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 consider the sentence.


An offender’s sentence is decided by the magistrates, district judge or Crown Court judge.

When sentencing, the court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines. If there are no relevant guidelines, the court must follow the level of sentences in similar cases in the past. This is called ‘case law’.

Various other things may be taken into account, including:

  • the facts of the case, including the standard of the driving of the offender
  • any ‘pleas in mitigation’ or the findings of background reports
  • Victim Personal Statements (see Section 3: Criminal investigation and charges)
  • whether the offender pleaded guilty or not. If the offender pleaded guilty, then the sentence can be reduced. This is called a 'discount'. The discount depends on when the offender pleaded guilty but can be between 10% and 33%
  • the maximum penalty of the offence. 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.

The court will consider whether to impose a prison sentence, a community sentence or a fine.

For more information about sentencing, including sentencing guidelines, go to the Sentencing Council website at

If the law changes, offenders will be sentenced according to the law at the time the offence was committed.

Community sentences

Often a community sentence is given, rather than a prison sentence. This means an offender has to serve their sentence under supervision in the community.

For adults this is called a community order.

For young people this is called either a youth rehabilitation order or a referral order.

As part of a community order or youth rehabilitation order, the judge or magistrates can impose a combination of different requirements, including:

  • unpaid work on behalf of the community
  • a curfew
  • 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 doesn’t comply with the requirements of a community sentence, they may have to go back to court and they may receive a different sentence.

For more information, go to and search for ‘community sentences’.

Suspended sentences

If an offender is given a prison sentence of two years or under, the court may decide to suspend the sentence. This means that the offender does not go to prison, so long as they comply with any requirements set by the court. These requirements could include:

  • unpaid work on behalf of the community
  • a curfew
  • attending a treatment programme for alcohol or drugs, or another rehabilitation activity.

If an offender does not comply with the requirements, or is convicted of another offence during their suspended sentence, they may be ordered to serve the original prison sentence as well as any sentence they are given for a new offence.


Some offenders are disqualified from driving for a minimum period. This depends on the offence that has been committed. For example, an offender convicted of causing death by dangerous driving may be disqualified from driving for five years. The court will take into account any previous convictions or disqualifications.

The law sets out the minimum period of a driving disqualification but courts can impose longer bans, including life bans. Courts are required to consider the impact of a prison sentence when imposing a driving ban. They will also consider how a ban might affect an offender's rehabilitation.

A court rarely imposes the maximum penalty and often imposes a lower penalty. If you are unhappy with a sentence and wish to make your views known, you can contact the CPS. You may also want to contact a road safety charity that campaigns on issues around sentencing. See Useful organisations.



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 convicted person has the right to appeal against their conviction or sentence. The appeal 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, a convicted person has the right to appeal against their conviction or sentence, or both. 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, acquit the person, or order a re-trial. The Court of Appeal can also order a defendant to serve additional days in prison if it considers the appeal should never have been brought.

Appeals by the prosecution

The prosecution has no automatic right to appeal a decision made in a Magistrates’ Court. However, in some circumstances, if there has been a legal error, 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. For some serious offences (for example, causing death by dangerous driving), and if the CPS thinks the sentence is ‘unduly lenient’, the CPS can ask the Attorney General to consider referring a sentence imposed by the Crown Court to the Court of Appeal.

If you think a sentence was too lenient you can write to the CPS and the Attorney General and explain your concerns. The Attorney General's Office (AGO) provides legal advice to government. For more information about the AGO's responsibilities and how to contact them, go to and search for 'Attorney General'.

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. Appeals to the High Court (judicial review) must be brought within three months.

You have the right to be informed of any appeals. This is written into the government document called ‘Code of practice for victims of crime’. You can access this document at

You can ask your police or Witness Care Unit contact whether an appeal has been lodged by the offender or the CPS. They can tell you the date of an appeal, update on its progress or tell you any outcome.


Prisoner release

Will an offender serve their whole sentence in prison?

Offenders are usually released from prison before the end of their sentence.

Most offenders are given a ‘standard determinate sentence’ and will be released on licence after serving half of their sentence in prison. Some offenders who have committed very serious offences will be required to serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison.

An offender who has committed a serious offence and is considered by the courts to be dangerous may be given an ‘extended sentence’ or a ‘life sentence’. In this case they are likely to serve more, or all, of their sentence in prison. This depends on a risk assessment by the Parole Board.

After release, an offender will serve the rest of the sentence ‘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 serve an additional period of ‘post sentence supervision’ after their sentence has expired. This is 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.

Sometimes an offender is released early under a special scheme called the ‘Home Detention Curfew Scheme’. Under this scheme, an offender must stay at a particular address during certain hours and wear an electronic tag to monitor their movements.

Sometimes an offender is released from prison for a short time on a temporary licence. This could be to attend a funeral, to have medical treatment, or to prepare for their return to the community. Offenders must return to prison at the end of a temporary licence.

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 between two and 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 there has been a change in circumstances such as the offender developing a disability. If the court refuses the application, the offender can reapply after three months.

Will I be told when an offender is going to be released?

If an offender is sentenced to 12 months or more in prison for certain, serious violent offences (which includes some serious driving offences), you should be invited to join the Victim Contact Scheme run by the National Probation Service. If you join the scheme, you should be assigned a Victim Liaison Officer.

You can join the scheme when an offender is sentenced or at a later date, while they are still serving their prison sentence. This is written into the government document called ‘Code of practice for victims of crime’. You can access this document at

Your Victim Liaison Officer can inform you, if you wish, about key stages in an offender’s sentence. For example, they can tell you:

  • if an offender is being considered for transfer to an open prison; or
  • if an offender becomes eligible to be considered for release.

You can also talk to your Victim Liaison Officer about the conditions that are attached to an offender’s release licence and you may be able to ask for certain conditions to be attached to the licence. For example, you can ask for a condition that the offender must not try to contact you or your family. You can also ask for an exclusion zone, banning the offender from going near your home or workplace or another place you travel to frequently.

To find out if you are entitled to join the Victim Contact Scheme, go to and search for 'get support as a victim of crime' or email

If you are worried about the release of a prisoner or you have received unwanted contact from a prisoner, you can call the Victim Helpline run by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). Call 0300 060 6699 between 9am and 4pm, Mondays to Fridays, or email



Coroners are special judges who investigate violent or unnatural deaths or deaths where the cause is unknown. This is likely to include most road deaths. Coroners have a legal qualification. They are appointed by local authorities (or councils) with the consent of the Chief Coroner and Lord Chancellor.

The purpose of a coroner’s investigation is to find out who has died and how, when and where they died, as well as other details to register the death. The investigation may include an inquest.

The coroner is responsible for authorising the release of the body for burial or cremation. Before this happens, a coroner will often order a post-mortem examination of the body (see Section 1: What happens now?) to help find the cause of death. If a post mortem takes place and the coroner is satisfied that a death was due to natural causes, they will usually end their investigation and an inquest will not be held.

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

If, after a trial, you think the circumstances surrounding the death are still not clear, 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 finished, their finding of the cause of death must be consistent with the outcome of the criminal trial. You can ask the coroner’s office for more information.

A coroner’s investigations cannot apportion criminal blame nor decide if someone should be punished or receive compensation. These things are decided through criminal proceedings (see Section 3: Criminal investigations and charges) and civil proceedings (see Section 5: Can I claim compensation?). However, if the coroner’s investigation finds evidence which suggests someone may be to blame for the death, the coroner can pass the evidence to the police or CPS.

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.



An inquest is a public court hearing to discover the facts of the death. An inquest is unlikely to be held if, after criminal proceedings have finished, the coroner considers that all relevant evidence has been heard as part of the 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. An inquest is different from other types of court hearing because there is no prosecution or defence.

In some cases, an inquest may be held with a jury. This may happen in certain cases that raise issues of public safety, including cases where the police are involved (for example if a fatal crash happened after a police pursuit).

Before an inquest, you or a solicitor representing you, can ask for copies of any documents that are going to be used at the inquest. This may include medical records, witness statements and expert reports.

Sometimes a coroner decides a document or part of a document cannot be shared for legal reasons.

During the inquest, the coroner should try to explain any technical terms that are used so everyone can understand what is being said.

Sometimes one or more hearings take place before an inquest to decide what an inquest will cover, what documents should be presented and who should give evidence. This is called a ‘pre-inquest review’. You, or a solicitor you are using, can attend a pre-inquest review if you want to. You have the right to give your views about what an inquest should cover but the coroner will make the final decision.

Giving evidence at an inquest

At an inquest, witnesses are usually called to give evidence. The coroner will decide who should give evidence. Witnesses may include the police, medical staff, expert witnesses and eyewitnesses. A relative or friend of the person who has died may also be allowed to act as a witness. There may be other people who you or your solicitor think are important witnesses and you or your solicitor can suggest these people to the coroner.

Anyone who has been charged with, or may be charged with, a criminal offence in connection with your case may be required to attend the inquest as a witness, although they have the right not to answer questions that may incriminate them.

Sometimes no witnesses are called to give evidence. The coroner may still use evidence provided in a witness statement but will only call a witness if they want a more detailed explanation or want to ask questions.

If you are asked to give evidence then you, and other family members who are giving evidence, will usually do so first. You will give evidence ‘under oath’. This means you will swear to tell the truth on the holy book of your religion, if you have one. If you prefer, you can ‘affirm’ (promise) that you will tell the truth.

The coroner will ask you questions and may ask you to talk about your written statement, if you have made one. You may also be questioned by other people, known as ‘interested persons’. This could be someone else close to the person who died, or your solicitor. Jury members may also ask you questions, if there is a jury. A coroner may also allow a solicitor representing someone accused of a criminal offence in connection with the crash to ask you questions. All questions must be about the facts of the death. The coroner will decide whether a question is relevant.

When everyone has finished asking questions, you may return to your seat in the court and stay to listen to the rest of the hearing and other witnesses if you want to. Some evidence can be read and not all witnesses need to attend in person.

Coroner’s summary and conclusions

When the coroner has heard all the evidence, they will give a summary of the main points. This is called ‘summing up’. A solicitor representing you can ask the coroner what the law says about possible conclusions the coroner or jury could make.

The coroner, or the jury if there is one, will then give their conclusion. They will say who died, and where, when and how they died. They will give the legal decision of what happened, the cause of death, and any ‘findings’ such as what facts contributed to the death.

When giving the cause of death, the coroner or jury may make one of the following conclusions:

  • unlawful killing
  • accidental death or misadventure
  • road traffic collision
  • natural causes.

The coroner or jury may explain their reasons for coming to a conclusion. Sometimes the coroner or jury may give a longer explanation about the facts surrounding a death and why they reached their conclusion. This is called a ‘narrative conclusion’.

A conclusion of ‘road traffic collision’ or ‘accidental death’ 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 (see Section 3: Criminal investigations and charges) and you may still be able to pursue a claim for compensation (see Section 5: Can I claim compensation?).

Reports to prevent future deaths

Sometimes a coroner’s investigation will show that something could be done to prevent other deaths. If the coroner considers this to be the case, they must write a ‘report to prevent future deaths’ (PFD report) that outlines road safety concerns that arose during an inquest. This report will be sent to any relevant organisation (or person) who may be able to take action to address these concerns.

Anyone who is sent a PFD report must respond in writing to say what action they will take. You can ask the coroner’s officer to tell you if a PFD report is being written and who it will be sent to.

If you would like to read a PFD report and any responses, you can ask the coroner’s office or go to and search for ‘PFD reports’.

Attending an inquest

An inquest is a public hearing and you can attend if you want to. You do not need to attend an inquest if you are not giving evidence. This is entirely your decision.

You may wish to, and are allowed to, have legal representation at an inquest. See Section 2: Practical issues for information about the role of a solicitor at an inquest and Section 5: Can I claim compensation? for information about hiring a solicitor.

The coroner’s office should tell you and other ‘interested persons’ the date and time of an inquest, and where it will be held. If you are not told, you can ask the coroner’s office.

For most people, attending an inquest is a new experience. The coroner’s office may be able to arrange for you to visit the courtroom before the inquest.

You may find some evidence given at an inquest upsetting, for example descriptions of injuries or photographs. The evidence may include personal information about the lifestyle of the person who has died.

If you get upset during an inquest, you can leave the courtroom at any time. If you leave, the coroner may agree to adjourn the inquest for a short time to allow you to recover and so you do not miss any part of the inquest.

All inquest hearings must be recorded and you or your solicitor can ask for a recording of the hearing, for a fee. If you didn’t attend the inquest, you can 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 (see Section 2: Practical issues). 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 may be able to reserve seats at the front of the courtroom for you.

An explanation of the coroner investigation and inquest process is written into the government document called ‘Guide to Coroner Services’. This 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. You can access this document at

The Coroners’ Courts Support Service may be able to provide a trained volunteer to talk to you about what will happen at an inquest and sit with you in the coroner’s court during the inquest. To find out if the service is available, call 0300 111 2141 or email, or go to


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 (see Section 3: Criminal investigations and charges).
  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for bringing prosecutions (see Section 3: Criminal investigations and charges).
  • Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) is responsible for providing court buildings, facilities and staff.
  • Judges and magistrates make decisions about when and how cases are heard and the outcomes of those cases. These decisions can only be challenged by appeal.
  • The Prison Service is responsible for what happens to an offender.

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. You may also be able to request a meeting.

The standard of services that must be provided to victims of crime is written into a government document called ‘Code of Practice for Victims of Crime’ (Victims’ Code). You can access this document at

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 Office for Police Conduct investigates complaints about the police.

Having your say to the government

Criminal justice organisations, such as the police and CPS, are set up and regulated by the government, and are the responsibility of particular government departments and their ministers.

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. 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. Your MP can also refer your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who is responsible for investigating complaints about government departments. For more information go to or call 0345 015 4033.

For a list of government bodies with responsibility for criminal justice, see Useful organisations.

If you are not sure how to have your voice heard, or you need help preparing what you want to say, call Brake’s National Road Victim Service on 0808 8000 401 or email


Restorative justice

Restorative justice provides an opportunity to communicate with an offender to explain the impact of their crime on you. It also aims to help offenders take responsibility and make amends. The offender must have admitted to the crime and must be willing to participate.

Restorative justice can involve 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.

It’s up to you whether you get involved with restorative justice and no one should try and persuade you to get involved if you don’t want to. 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 ask your local Police and Crime Commissioner. To find your local Police and Crime Commissioner, go to

If restorative justice is available in your area, you should be told about it. This is written into the government document called ‘Code of practice for victims of crime’ (Victims’ Code). You can access this document at

This text is taken from the 2023-24 edition of Information and advice for bereaved families and friends following death on the road in England and Wales. Published 2023. ISBN 978-1-906409-84-5.