The law governs all aspects of society from keeping the traffic flowing to crimes such as stealing. The law is there to protect people and society and to prevent crime. Anyone who breaks the law can expect some form of punishment.

Reporting a crime

You can report a crime by stopping a police officer in the street or by contacting your local police station. In an emergency, call 999. You'll be asked for some details about yourself and the crime and you may eventually be asked if you would be a witness.

If you are worried about your own safety, you can report a crime anonymously on the Crimestoppers website or by calling the national helpline on Freephone 0800 555 111. They won't ask for your name and no-one will ever know you called. You will never have to give a statement or go to court. The service is completely anonymous and confidential.

If you're a victim of crime

There are many ways of keeping yourself safe and minimising the risks to your personal safety, but if you do become a victim of crime, there is help available. Contact the national Victim Support Helpline on Telephone 0845 30 30 900. The helpline is open Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, 9am-7pm at weekends and 9am-5pm on Bank Holidays.

Helping the police with their enquiries

The police service's job is to maintain law and order, so they might want to talk to you, especially if you're involved in serious criminal activities (joy riding, shoplifting) or if they suspect you of relatively minor offences (like being drunk and disorderly).

If a police officer stops you in the street, you are entitled to know their name, the police station where they work and why they have stopped you (your appearance is not a good reason). If you haven't been arrested, you don't have to go to the police station. If you decide to go voluntarily, you can leave at any time you wish. You are also entitled telephone a relative or friend, telling them where you are and free legal advice from a solicitor.

Getting arrested

If you’re arrested by a police officer, you come under the care and control of the law. The police must give you written information about your legal rights when you arrive at the station.

Being arrested is not the same as being charged and you still have certain rights. You have a right to know why you've been arrested, you should be allowed to tell someone (a parent/carer, friend or 'appropriate adult') where you are and you can speak to a solicitor free of charge.

If you are under 17, you should not usually be interviewed by the police without a parent or 'appropriate adult' present.

The police can't normally hold you for longer than 24 hours without charging or releasing you, but if they think you’ve committed a serious offence, the holding time can be extended by a senior officer by another 12 hours. A magistrate can extend the holding time up to 96 hours.

You must give the police your name and address but after that you have the right to remain silent. If you refuse to answer further questions, your failure to answer questions may strengthen the case against you. If you fail to answer questions in court, magistrates or a jury are allowed to take this into account in deciding whether you are guilty.

Once the police have reason to believe that you have committed an offence, an officer must caution you by explaining that it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court and anything you do say may be given in evidence.

If there appears to be enough evidence after questioning you, the police might charge you with the offence - you will be given a charge sheet, containing details of the offence of which you are charged, when and where you are due to appear in court and the conditions of your bail.  The police may choose to send information to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will decide whether to charge you, or the police may arrange to issue you with a formal caution, a strong warning from a senior police officer reminding you that you could have been sent to court and if you commit further offences, that is almost certainly what will happen. A caution can be given only if the person admits their guilt.

Hate crime

Hate crime is crime that is directed at people because of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability. The actual 'crime' can include anything from bullying, assault, vandalism, arson, burglary or theft to sex offences or murder. If you feel you have been the victim of a hate crime, seek confidential advice from your Connexions Personal Adviser immediately.

For further information

Civil Legal Advice (CLA) offers free and confidential legal advice in England and Wales if you’re eligible for legal aid.

Legal aid could help pay for legal advice, family mediation or representation in court or at a tribunal. Check if you can get legal aid at the GOV.UK website.

The Coram Children's Legal Centre can advise children and young people and parents, carers or professionals working with children and young people. Call Freephone 0808 802 0008 for advice relating to English child and family law.