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Tuesday, 2 October 2023

What happens if you're charged with a crime

If you're charged with a crime, it means the police suspect you are involved in the crime you were arrested for. Find out what happens if you have to stay in custody or are released on bail before going to a magistrates' court.

If you’re charged with a crime

You are given a charge sheet, setting out details of the suspected crime

The custody officer at the police station tells you that you’re being charged. You are given a ‘charge sheet’ which sets out the details of your suspected crime.

The police decide whether you:

  • can go home until the court hearing - but may have to follow certain rules, known as ‘bail’
  • are kept in police custody until the court hearing, known as ‘remand’

All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court.

Bail - what it is

Bail means you are allowed to leave police custody while your crime is investigated further, or while you wait for your court hearing.

There are two different types of bail:

  • police bail - this is given at the police station after you’re charged
  • court bail - this is given at your hearing at a magistrates’ court

Police bail

Bail is an agreement between you and the police and can include conditions, like:

  • living at a particular address
  • not being allowed to contact certain people
  • handing your passport over to the police

Reasons you may not be given police bail

You’re unlikely to be given bail if you:

  • are charged with a serious offence - for example, armed robbery
  • have been convicted of a serious crime in the past

Other reasons you may not be granted bail are because:

  • you have been given bail in the past and not stuck to the terms
  • the police think you may not go to your court hearing
  • the police think you may commit a crime while on bail

Reporting to a police station

As part of your bail conditions, you may have to report to your local police station at agreed times - for example, once a week. This is to show that you have not left the area.

If you don’t turn up, you will get a ‘warrant’ in the post for your arrest. It states that you must go to the police station.

If you ignore the warrant, you are arrested and have to wait for your court hearing in prison rather than on bail.

If you’re kept in police custody after being charged

You have the right to ask for bail, and the right to ask for legal advice

If you’re charged by the police and kept in custody until your hearing, you are ‘on remand’. This means you have been refused bail.

You will be sent to a magistrates' court to be given a chance to ask for bail. This is normally within 24 hours (or 48 hours at weekends).

British law states that you are innocent until proven guilty. This means you have more rights than a person convicted (found guilty) of a crime, including the right to:

  • ask for bail - you have the right to get legal advice about this
  • keep your job or home
  • continue to run a business (as long as it’s legal)

You are kept on remand until your trial is over and you have been sentenced.

Legal help if you’re charged with a crime

You may be entitled to free legal help before and during your court hearing. You can find out more about this by following the link below.

Additional links

You be the judge

Decide which sentence you would give for a crime - and see what happened in real life

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