Criminal Justice System

New law in force

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. Some of the information on this page may be out of date.

When you deal with the criminal justice system – whether as a victim of crime, a witness in a court case or someone charged with an offence – you have the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination. This section tells you about the rights you have and what the legal responsibilities are for organisations that are part of the criminal justice system.

This section does not tell you how to take someone to court for discrimination or exercise your rights through the legal system.

The criminal justice system plays an important role in tackling discrimination. The courts, police, probation and prison services are all part of this system. The courts also have a central role in hearing discrimination claims and deciding on remedies when claims are successful.

Where your rights come from

The Human Rights Act 1998 brings into UK law the rights laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights. Several of these rights are particularly relevant for the criminal justice system:

  • the right to liberty and security
  • freedom from torture and degrading treatment
  • the right to a fair trial
  • the right not to be punished for something that wasn’t a crime when you did it
  • the right to respect for private and family life.

If any of these rights or freedoms is infringed, you have the right to an effective resolution in law, even if the infringement was by someone in authority, such as a police officer.

In many cases, the Human Rights Act also protects against unfair treatment on grounds including, but not limited to, those of sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age.

For more information on human rights, visit the Human rights pages.

In addition to the legal protection offered by human rights legislation, the criminal justice system is also subject to anti-discrimination legislation that prevents it from discriminating unlawfully against anyone on the grounds of sex, race, disability, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation.

As public authorities, criminal justice institutions, such as the Prison Service, police forces, the National Probation Service and the Crown Prosecution Service, are also subject to certain legal duties, which require them to positively promote equality. Find out more about the legal duties of public authorities.

Criminal justice institutions may also be classified as service providers, in which case they are bound by similar rules to other service providers. They may also be employers, and as such have certain legal responsibilities to their staff.

For in-depth information on all aspects of criminal justice in the UK, visit the Criminal Justice System website.

The remainder of this section of the website looks at the specific parts of the criminal justice system:

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