Abstracts: November 1st, 2001

By Sarah Spencer and Beatrice SternA new report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research reveals that the reluctance of the public to report crime and give evidence in court is seriously undermining the justice system. An ICM poll carried out as part of the research found that 12 per cent of adults would not report a murder, 59 per cent would not report screaming from their neighbours and 70 per cent would not report a street brawl. The British Crime Survey shows that 4.5 times more crimes are committed than are reported to the police, and only 14% of those who do witness an assault report it.

The report identifies the reasons behind witness reluctance and makes clear recommendations for reform. The authors found the public are deterred by fear of retribution, anxiety about their treatment in the justice system, lack of confidence in the outcome, differing views on the seriousness of offences, and the inconvenience.

The report makes a number of recommendations including: a Witness Charter setting out the standards of service that witnesses can expect from all of the criminal justice agencies, a single unforgettable national telephone number and a www.witness.com  website to encourage people to report offences. They also recommend that an information and guidance pack should be prepared for all witnesses who report offences, in consultation with the Law Society and Bar Council.

Reluctant Witness published by Institute for Public Policy Research price 5 pounds is available from Central Books, tel. 0845 458991