Criminal Law: Rights of Victims and the Accused

Introduction

Whether you have been the victim of a crime or you are the accused, criminal law in the UK affords you specific rights. When those rights are upheld, justice is insured to the best possible degree. When those rights are violated, more victims are created as a result. It is important for you to know your own rights regardless of which side of the law you are on.

For the accused, proper legal advice and representation is usually a necessity. While its true defendants are sometimes allowed to defend themselves, courts typically frown on this option. In some cases, a court will not even allow the legal process to go forward until the accused has a qualified lawyer.

Common Types of Crime in the UK

The criminal code in this country is so vast as to allow for literally thousands of different types of crimes. However, all of them can be grouped under certain broad categories. Those broad categories can also be divided into things like property crimes, violent and non-violent crimes, high street crimes, corporate criminal activity, and so on. The following is a brief description of these general categories:

  • Property Crimes – A property crime has to do with personal property like homes, cars, and personal possessions. A typical property crime would be a home burglary or a theft. Usually property crimes involve objects only; victims are typically not present or unaware that a crime is being committed.
  • Non-violent Crimes – Crimes of the non-violent nature usually involve victims directly. However, violence is not part of the equation during the commission of the crime. Good examples of non-violent crime include fraud, identity theft, and so on.
  • Violent Crimes – These are the types of crimes we are most familiar with due to the media focus on them. Violent crimes range in scope from rape to assault to murder. For obvious reasons, violent crimes tend to have the most serious consequences in terms of both the victim and the punishment meted out to the guilty party.
  • High Street Crimes – High Street crimes are those that involve the banking and financial sectors. For example, a crooked investor who defrauds clients by taking their money without investing it would be guilty of a high street crime. Bank and securities fraud are two other good examples.
  • Corporate Crimes – These types of crimes have to do with violating the law where corporations are concerned. For example, theft of intellectual property would be considered a corporate crime. This is a speciality area of law where solicitors are concerned because it is so unusual when compared to other types of crime.

Rights of Crime Victims

According to the GOV.UK website, crime victims in the UK have certain rights. First among them is the right to contact police and be kept informed during the entire course of an investigation. You could make the case these are the two most fundamental rights for crime victims in any country.

Above and beyond these rights, crime victims have others as well:

  • Investigation Updates – During the course of an investigation, victims have the right to know when someone is arrested and charged with the crime. Police should automatically keep you updated without you having to ask, but sometimes victims have to ask for information. Victims should also be kept informed regarding when a suspect is set free, released on bail, or faces a penalty.
  • Personal Statement – Crime victims are allowed to make personal statements, which would then be given to a court when deciding on appropriate punishment. Personal statements are very common for violent crimes.
  • Privacy – The right to privacy is a fundamental right afforded to crime victims for obvious reasons. When police speak to the media, they are required to ask permission of victims in some circumstances. In cases of rape or sexual assault, the media is not allowed to print the names, pictures, or any other identifying information about victims.
  • Compensation – If the victim of a crime has suffered personal injury because of the incident, they sometimes have the right to financial compensation to pay for pain and suffering, loss of income, or any expenses they incurred as the result of those injuries. Ultimately, a court may have to decide whether compensation is warranted.

Rights of the Accused

Individuals being investigated, charged with, or prosecuted for crimes also have certain rights afforded to them. While some think these rights are unfair, they are an important part of the legal system that cannot be ignored. There have been numerous cases over the years where criminals have gone free or avoided stiff penalties because their rights were violated.

If you have been arrested the police will be able to question you for investigative purposes or charge you with a crime. Prior to charges, you have the right to obtain legal counsel, inform someone about where you are, get access to medical care if necessary, and obtain a written document of your rights from the police. The police are also required to explain these rights to you at the time of your arrest.

Once you have been formally charged, the authorities are required to give you a “charge sheet” which will list charges against you along with brief descriptions. In some cases, you will be able to post bail so you can be released until your first hearing. In other cases, the police may determine a necessity to hold you in a facility until your hearing.

Court Proceedings

For most crimes, the first hearing occurs in what is called Magistrates Court. Initial hearings are conducted by either a panel of three magistrates or a district judge. Minor cases like disorderly conduct, traffic crimes, and minor criminal charges are often settled in Magistrates Court. More serious crimes like burglary, drug possession, and violent crimes start in Magistrates Court but then are passed to Crown Court.

The main difference with Crown Court is that there is a jury involved. The jury decides guilt or innocence while the judge has the responsibility of maintaining order during the trial and issuing a sentence upon a guilty verdict. Crown Courts are also used for appeal of Magistrate decisions and previous Crown Court rulings.

Whether your case is ultimately decided in a Magistrates court or Crown Court, your criminal law solicitor will advise you as to your best course of action. For example, he or she may recommend you work out a plea deal rather than fight charges. A plea deal is an agreement whereby you admit to guilt a lesser degree in order to avoid potentially more serious consequences as a result of a criminal trial.

It is possible to plead innocent to criminal charges early on and then change your mind and plead guilty before your trial starts. This is often done in order to get a reduced sentence from a friendly court. When the accused persons go the other way — they plead guilty and then change their plea to not guilty — courts are known to make doing so as difficult as possible.

Hiring a Criminal Law Solicitor

No one charged with a crime is required to appear in court without the advice and representation of a solicitor. You may choose to do so, but ultimately the court has the final word. In some cases, they will allow the accused to represent themselves while in other cases they will hold up proceedings until proper legal counsel is procured.

If you can afford to pay your lawyers’ fees yourself, you will be required to do so. If you cannot afford a solicitor, you will have access to either free legal advice or some sort of financial aid to help with the expense. Obviously, a court will look at your financial situation before assigning you free counsel or financial assistance.

Conclusion

If you are the victim of a crime, you can rest assured knowing you have rights protected under the law. Make sure you know your rights so that they are not abused throughout the investigation and prosecution phases. If you are not sure of your rights, do not be afraid to ask questions.

If you have been accused of a crime, you also have rights during the investigation, prosecution, and sentencing phases. You are advised to consider the advice offered by a lawyer for your own protection.

Here are links to some websites that will provide information about victims’ rights in the UK. If you need further assistance, you can contact a solicitor or get in touch with a legal advice charity in your area.

FindLaw – This is a comprehensive website covering almost every aspect of law in the UK. Their information for crime victims is rather comprehensive and includes tons of helpful articles.

Victim Support – A website operated by a UK charitable organisation with a mission to help crime victims. This site contains information for both victims and witnesses as well as a contact link and a free telephone number you can call for assistance.

If you are being investigated for a crime, or you have already been arrested and charged, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal solicitor. The following links will direct you to websites where you can quickly and easily search for a qualified solicitor.

Which Criminal Lawyer – Search by postcode, use the interactive map, or call a free telephone number.

Law Society – Here you can search for solicitors by postcode, area practice, or firm name.

Contact Law – A free service matching solicitors with those who need legal help.

Solicitors.co.uk – Search for criminal law solicitors by postcode or by town.

Search4Solicitors – This site lets you search for solicitors by postcode or town as well.

Find-Solicitor.co.uk – Search site allowing you to enter your postcode and the type of advice you need before searching.