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Victims and Witnesses

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What is a victim?

The term ‘victim’ is used by most agencies when referring to someone who has experienced victimisation. It is also defined within the Victims’ Code as a ‘person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence’ or ‘a close relative (or a nominated family spokesperson) of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence’. However, support agencies for victims and the Victims’ Commissioner include all victims, regardless of the type of crime committed against them, whether they report it to the police and whether or not anyone is convicted. Notably, some victims and many non-statutory agencies prefer to use the word ‘survivor’.

“The treatment of victims as bystanders across the criminal justice system impacts not only on their experience of the system but their perception of it. The time has come to re-conceptualise the status of victims so that they are seen as active participants from the point the crime is committed throughout the criminal justice process and beyond.” Annual Report of the Victims’ Commissioner 2020 to 2021 – Victims Commissioner

The Victims’ Code sets out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies such as the police and courts, whether they choose to report the crime or not. The latest version of the Code, which came into force 1 April 2021, is structured so that it focuses on 12 overarching rights.

What is a witness?

A person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss, as a direct result of witnessing a crime, is classed as a victim of crime within the Victims Code and are able to access services that support victims. They do not need to have provided a statement to or been interviewed by the police or be required to attend court as a witness. Other witnesses can access services provided under the Witness Charter which sets out standards of care for witnesses in the criminal justice system, including how a person can expect to be treated by the police if they are a witness to a crime or incident, and if they are asked to give evidence in a criminal court. It provides more information, such as the role of a registered intermediary, the witness journey and special measures for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

The Victims’ Commissioner

Victims and witnesses of crime have certain entitlements. The Victim’s Code and Witness Charter set out what needs to be done and when, but they are often silent on how it should be done. The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales is dedicated to promoting the interests of victims and witnesses. The Victims’ Commissioner is appointed by ministers but is independent of government and free to advise, challenge and offer their own views.

Of note, victims of Anti Social Behaviour do not have the same rights as victims of crime, which is something that the previous and current Victims’ Commissioners have called to be rectified within the Code (see Anti-Social Behaviour: Living a Nightmare – Victims Commissioner).

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  • Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 sets out the introduction of the Victim’s Code and the role of Victims’ Commissioner.
  • The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 defines ‘vulnerable’ witnesses as being children and young people under 18 years of age and any person who suffers from a physical or mental incapacity and as a consequence is less able to give evidence; and ‘intimidated’ witnesses as victims of sexual offences and those who are in fear or distress about giving evidence, which may reduce the quality of that evidence (source: The Witness Charter).

Victims and Witnesses: Care and Treatment for Legal Guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service.

Victims’ Commissioner and the College of Policing have developed a video on how police officers can best support victims. VIDEO: Putting victims at the heart of policing – Victims Commissioner

Victim Support provides training – find out more.

Useful Links

You can complain about a victims’ service via the Victims Commissioner

Make a Complaint

UK Government guidance and resources to help agencies and practitioners who work with victims and witnesses. 

View the Resources

Law and courts – Citizens Advice

View the Advice

The Witness Charter: standards of care for witnesses in the criminal justice system

Read the Charter

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales and supporting public information materials

Read the Code of Practice 

Victims’ Code – Victim Support

Read the Code

Help and Support

For victims, families and concerned people

If you’ve witnessed or been the victim of crime, please report it to the Police. Call 101 or report it online depending on your region of Wales – South Wales Police, Dyfed Powys Police, Gwent Police or North Wales Police. In an emergency, call 999.

If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, use the Police textphone service 18000 or text on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergencySMS service.

If you have information about crime and wish to remain anonymous, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online.

If you’ve been affected by crime, you can access support from Victim Support, including via their free national 24/7 supportline on 08 08 16 89 111, or get support online.

Witness Care Units provide information and support to victims and witnesses in cases progressing through the criminal justice system. Support and information will be tailored to the needs of the individual witness. Get information and advice via Citizens Advice Witness Service (or via the Victim Support Services below).

Victim Support Services across Wales include:

You can also find guidance and advice for victims and witnesses of crime via Victims Commissioner.

For further specialist help and support, visit the topics on our website.