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Abstract: Little comprehensive evaluation has taken place currently of today's services to victims and witnesses of...
Abstract: Little comprehensive evaluation has taken place currently of today's services to victims and witnesses of crime, disorderly or anti-social behaviour. Victims and witnesses have not described in detail their experiences of obtaining help and support, and whether any received support was satisfactory. The Audit Commission has reviewed current service provision, incorporating evidence from policymakers and practitioners as well as victims and witnesses.


The lack of consistent support for victims and witnesses in England and Wales is contributing to a low level of confidence in the criminal justice system (CJS), according to a report published today by the Audit Commission.

Victims and Witnesses: providing better support calls for national targets on victim and witness care which apply not only to the CJS but also to local authorities and crime and disorder reduction partnerships (CDRPs).

Last year one in four people was a victim of crime. For many victims, the criminal justice process fails to deliver a satisfactory conclusion, and very few ever see an offender brought to justice. While overall crime rates have been falling recently, the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour blights many people's lives.

MORI research carried out for the Audit Commission also shows that two out of five witnesses would not be prepared to go through the process again in similar circumstances.

The role of victims and witnesses is critical to the criminal justice system. Failure to improve services for victims and witnesses has a huge impact on the way the public responds to crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour: by making them reluctant to report an incident, or by making them more likely to drop out of the CJS ahead of or during a trial. Key to this is recognising that some victims and witnesses are more vulnerable than others, for example older people or witnesses at risk of intimidation in court.

Of the £13bn spent on the CJS each year, £29m goes to the voluntary organisation Victim Support. While some other money is channelled into victim and witness care it is not tracked through the system.

Today the government unveiled its proposals for victim and witness care, including the establishment of an independent commissioner for victims and witnesses. It is essential that government objectives in this area are backed by robust performance or management information that allows agencies to judge outcomes.

The Audit Commission recommends that:

* CJS agencies and the locally-based (CDRPs) give greater priority to victim and witness needs

* Statutory powers are granted to the recently-created local criminal justice boards (LCJBs) to support the greater devolvement of resources

Audit Commission chairman James Strachan said:

'With just nine per cent of crimes resulting in a conviction, and two out of five witnesses unprepared to go through the process again, confidence in the CJS is being eroded. It is crucial for future crime reduction that both victims and witnesses are valued within the criminal justice system.

'This report calls on the disparate agencies in the CJS and all those involved in reducing crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour to work together. At a national level it means setting common goals with explicit performance targets for CJS agencies with regard to victim and witness care. At a local level, it means a focus on better services designed around victims and witnesses, which make them feel they have a valuable part to play in the process of delivering justice.'

Victims and Witnesses - providing better support examines what happens to people from their first contact with the authorities, through the court system and beyond. This is the first time a study has taken into account the views of victims and witnesses towards all those involved with victim and witness care including the police, local authorities, the CPS, the probation service and the voluntary sector.

* The full report is available here.

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