The Police Investigation
If you have made a statement to the police there is a range of possible outcomes.
- The sexual offences and Child Abuse Unit (SOCA) member who took your statement will pass the information on to the Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU). They will begin to investigate the crime and eventually make a decision about whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed to court.
- There are many points at which the police may decide to discontinue the investigation. As this is a complex area, it may be helpful to discuss it with a Counsellor/Advocate.
- If the offender is charged with assault, the legal process following involves the courts. You may become a witness for the case, which is prosecuted by the state.
- If the offender pleads not guilty, the witnesses (including you) will have to go to court and give evidence under oath and be cross-examined by the defence lawyer. If the offender pleads guilty, you may still have to go to court to give evidence about what happened (from your statement) or if he pleads guilty on all charges, you might not have to go to court at all.
What Happens in Court?
If you go to court, you have the right to:
- Be given written information by the Office of Public Prosecution about your rights.
- Ask to meet the barrister who will be dealing with the case, before and after the trial.
- Request that the court be closed to the public and to have a separate waiting room at court.
- Request that the court make special arrangements for you when you give evidence, like putting a screen in court so you can't see the offender or letting you give evidence in another room using closed circuit television.
- Remain in court after you have told your story.
The Committal Hearing
This is the first hearing at court where the magistrate decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. This is usually held 2-3 months after the offender is charged with assault, although it may take longer. At the committal hearing evidence collected during the police investigation is presented. The magistrate then decides whether the matter will go to trial on the basis of whether there is enough evidence to support a conviction. This may take a few hours, days, or longer.
If the Magistrate has decided there is enough evidence to go to trial, it may take at least another 3 months or longer before the trial is held. The trial is held before a Judge of the County Court and a jury (although no jury if the offender pleads guilty). At the end of the trial the jury will give a guilty or not guilty verdict. The judge will pass sentence, usually some days later.
If you live in a small town you may prefer the trial to be held somewhere else. The court can be asked to arrange for the hearings to be held out of town.
What Actually Happens At Court?
Anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. A Barrister from the Office of Public Prosecutions presents the case against the accused person at the committal hearing and at the trial. The victim of the crime is seen as a witness in the case and therefore doesn't have a lawyer directly representing him or her. The accused does not have to give evidence and his lawyer acts on his behalf. Unfortunately, going to court is often difficult. It can be helpful to get support and advice throughout this process from a Counsellor/Advocate. It is important to ask about anything you don't understand about the process.
Victim Impact Statement
If you go to court, you may wish to prepare a statement, which indicated the impact the assault has had on you. This statement is then considered at the time of sentencing and you may be cross-examined on it. It is your choice.
Forms can be obtained from the police, the courts, witness assistance services or the Counsellor/Advocate.
The Counsellor/Advocate can provide you with information, advice and assistance in all these areas.
Email us for more information
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