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Justice system fails witnesses and victims of crime, say MPs

1st Jun 2016

Witnesses and victims of crime are being failed by a criminal justice system that is approaching breaking point, parliament’s spending watchdog has said.

The public accounts committee discovered that courts and prisons are “bedevilled by long standing poor performance including delays and inefficiencies, and costs are being shunted from one part of the system to another”.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said that the government has overlooked the consequences of cutbacks, which has resulted in the system’s ability to deliver justice being put under threat.

She noted that “The system is overstretched and disjointed. Victims of crime are entitled to justice yet they are at the mercy of a postcode lottery for access to that justice.

Around two-thirds of trials in the crown court were delayed or did not go ahead at all, the committee said, with only 55% of those who have been a witness say they would be prepared to do so again.

Victims were also waiting longer for their day in court and faced a postcode lottery in access to justice, the committee found; Victims of crime in north Wales had a seven in 10 chance that their crown court trial would go ahead but only a two in 10 chance in Greater Manchester, official data showed, whilst the length of time victims were forced to wait between an offence being committed and the conclusion of their case ranged from 243 days in Durham and 418 days in Sussex.

The government spends around £2bn a year on the criminal justice system, which in the year to September 2015 saw 1.7m cases dealt with through the courts.

Government spending on the criminal justice system has fallen by 26% and the number of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers had dropped 27% since 2010, official figures show.

As well as this, a backlog of 51,830 cases was awaiting a crown court hearing as of September last year and the committee found the system was “not good enough” in supporting victims and witnesses.