The court process

Part of: Victims of rape and sexual assault

Being a witness in court is a new experience for most people. You can discuss with the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) or witness services any concerns you have about giving evidence.

Going to court

The court may be the first place you see the defendant or any of their family or friends. You may wish to have your family and friends with you.

You will have already given a statement, but you are there to tell the court what you remember. In some cases, the statement you have given can be used as your evidence in court. In other cases, you will most likely have to give evidence in court. If you have to give evidence, the police will give you a copy of your statement beforehand for you to read over and refresh your memory.

Special measures for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses

The nature and circumstances of rape and other serious sexual offences means that the prosecutor can apply for you to be allowed to use special measures to help you give your evidence in court. These include:

  • playing to the court the victim’s or witness’s video recorded interview (the victim or witness will not have to give ‘live’ evidence, but they will still have to answer questions put to them by the defendant’s lawyer in cross examination)
  • giving evidence from behind a screen in a courtroom to prevent the victim (or other witness) and the defendant seeing each other
  • giving evidence away from the courtroom through a live television link to prevent the victim or witness having to go into court

Some cases of rape or sexual assault are reported by the newspapers and TV. Under legislation, victims of sexual offences have a lifetime right to anonymity. Therefore nothing should be published that will identify you.

After the presentation of evidence

After all the evidence has been presented, the public prosecutor and defence counsel sum up their cases. The judge sums up all the evidence and the jury will consider their verdict.


If the verdict is guilty, the judge considers the sentence. The judge may hear arguments by the defence for a less severe sentence and he may delay sentencing to gather reports.

It is the responsibility of the prosecutor in your case to tell you about, and explain to you, the sentence given.

There are a range of sentences available to the courts for sexual offences. In the most serious cases, the courts can impose a discretionary life sentence. In that case a ‘tariff’ (or minimum period to serve in prison) will be set by the judge.


Following a criminal case, a convicted person may appeal against their conviction (if they pleaded not guilty at trial) and/ or their sentence. They can also apply for bail waiting for their appeal.

Should the defendant appeal against conviction and/ or sentence, the PPS will contact the investigating police officer so they can tell you that an appeal has been lodged. You will be informed of any hearing.

Private prosecutions

If the Public Prosecution Service decides not to prosecute the case, in theory, you could go to a solicitor and ask them to prosecute the case for you (private prosecution). In some cases, you must seek the consent of the Attorney General or of the Director of Public Prosecutions before the commencement of proceedings. This process is very expensive and you cannot claim legal aid.

Civil action

If your attacker is found not guilty by the court, you can take civil action against them.

You would not be making a criminal allegation, but making a claim for damages. This can be a very long and expensive process and there is no guarantee that you would get legal aid. If you are considering civil action, you should get advice from a solicitor. You can find details of solicitors from the law society website.


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