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Rights of defendants in criminal proceedings - England and Wales

Please note that these factsheets apply only to England and Wales. If you want to know your rights in other parts of the United Kingdom, see the separate factsheets for Scotland and for Northern Ireland.

These factsheets explain what happens if you are suspected or accused of a crime which is dealt with by a trial in court. For information on minor road traffic offences, which are usually dealt with by a fine, see Factsheet 5.

If you are the victim of a crime, you can find full information about your rights here.


Summary of the criminal process

The normal stages in the criminal process are as follows:

  • The Link opens in new windowpolice investigate whether a crime was committed and by whom. They collect evidence.
  • Having identified a suspect, the police, if they think it necessary, can arrest the person and question them on the offence.
  • If the police think that the suspect may have committed a crime they consult the Link opens in new windowCrown Prosecution Service (CPS) about whether to charge him – that is, make a formal accusation to be tried in court.
  • The CPS decides on suitable charges and serves a formal document on the suspect describing the allegation.
  • Before the trial, court hearings find out how the accused intends to plead, and check the case is ready for trial.
  • The prosecutor presents the evidence at trial. The accused may also present evidence in his defence. Serious cases will be decided by a jury and less serious cases by magistrates.
  • After all the evidence is heard, the magistrates or jury declare a verdict.
  • If the accused is found guilty, the judge determines the sentence.
  • The decision can be appealed

The factsheets give details about these stages in the process and about your rights. This information is not a substitute for legal advice and is intended to be for guidance only.

Role of the European Commission

Please note that the European Commission has no role in criminal proceedings in Member States and cannot assist you. Information is provided in these factsheets about how to complain and to whom.

Click on the links below to find the information that you need

Link opens in new window1 - Getting legal advice

Link opens in new window2 - My rights during the investigation of a crime

  • Investigation and arrest
  • Interview and charge
  • Court appearances before trial
  • Preparation of the case before trial

Link opens in new window3 - My rights during the trial

Link opens in new window4 - My rights after the trial

  • More information about appeal hearings

Link opens in new window5 - Road traffic offences

Related links

Link opens in new windowCrown Prosecution Service

Link opens in new windowLiberty Guide to Human Rights


The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective Member State. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. The European Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.

Last update: 01/12/2016