Victims and witnesses are stakeholders in the criminal justice system but in order to provide them with a truly user-focused service a cultural change is needed. The Audit Commission has come to this conclusion after talking to victims, witnesses, policymakers and practitioners and analysing the findings of a MORI survey. In order to get an in depth picture the experience of victims and witnesses was tracked from their first contact with the authorities, through the court system and beyond.The crime scene painted by the Commission shows that around one-quarter of the population were victims last year and just under one-third were affected by disorderly or antisocial behaviour. The risk of becoming a victim of crime is 27 per cent for the general population, around the same level as in 1981 and one-third lower than the risk in 1995. Less than half of all crime is currently being reported to the police. Only 9% of crime results in a conviction. This means that very few victims and witnesses actually see their case go to court and of these cases, around one-third will still not result in an offender being brought to justice.
The MORI survey found that two out of five witnesses were not prepared to go through the process again and that over two-thirds of the public are not at all or not very confident that the criminal justice system meets the needs of victims. The Commission argues that these findings combined with the low conviction rate is eroding confidence in the system.
To meet concerns about the adequacy of victim and witness support a strategy was launched recently together with a framework document for improving public satisfaction and confidence in the criminal justice system. In April 2003, 42 non-statutory local criminal justice boards were created to strengthen joint working at a local level. It is also proposed to set up an independent Commissioner for victims and witnesses. The Commission, while commending these measures, is concerned that no comprehensive evaluation has taken place to assess how successful they are proving.
The Commission calls for action at national level to include setting common goals for government departments, with associated service standards and performance targets for agencies. Local action should focus on better services that make victims and witnesses feel that they are an important and valued part of the process. Crime reduction partners should design services around victim and witness needs and national targets should apply to local authorities and Crime Reduction Partnerships.