001/MCJB

Justice chiefs celebrate progress on Merseyside

01/06/2012

Public confidence in Criminal Justice agencies on Merseyside is higher than ever - claims the county's top prosecutor.

Paul Whittaker CBE, Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS Mersey-Cheshire, was speaking out in his first duty as the new chair of the Merseyside Criminal Justice Board (MCJB), and highlighted significant achievements of the past year.

Mr Whittaker said: "A long term problem has been late guilty pleas with offenders entering a plea at the last minute after a great deal of work has been done on cases.  This is also hard on victims and witnesses who will have often prepared themselves to give evidence at court.

"By working together ensuring that we build strong cases, 72% of offenders are now pleading guilty at first appearance, compared to less than 60% in previous years.  This ensures swift justice and reduces the burden on victims and witnesses.

Mr Whittaker also referred to the difficulties of getting witnesses to court. "Attending court is a daunting experience for anyone and getting our witnesses to court is an area where we can always do better. Even if we have strong evidence in a case its important that judges and juries hear from witnesses and victims.

"During the last year we achieved excellent levels of attendance, especially when cases involved reluctant and vulnerable witnesses - such as those who have suffered domestic abuse and hate crime. This is due to a variety of factors including giving people more information and explaining the process, keeping people informed throughout the court experience and making sure that we consider the needs of victims and witnesses when making decisions in every case."

One of the MCJB's key priorities last year was to reduce the number of police officers called to court, but who did not give evidence. Mr Whittaker highlights this as a notable success:

"By working together to improve how we use police witnesses we have halved the number of police officers called -effectively freeing up 450 hours of police time a month. Put another way, this means more than 60 police officers a month are now on our streets rather than being tied up in courtrooms.

"Youth crime is a problem in this and in many other urban areas. For a number of years effort has been put into preventing youths from entering the Criminal Justice System in the first place to stop the cycle of criminalisation which can result in reoffending in adult life.  Last year there were 47% fewer youths prosecuted or cautioned and this is the third successive year of reductions. I want to stress that this does not means that young people are 'getting away with it'; it means we are achieving a just result which also discourages a return to crime in later life.

"I am delighted to be taking up the chair of the Merseyside Criminal Justice board at this exciting time and will continue the commitment to working together to improving public confidence in the justice service on Merseyside."

End


For more information contact Sharon King, Area communications manager, CPS Mersey-Cheshire. 0151 239 6465

Note to editors:
The Merseyside Criminal Justice Board has been set up to bring together all the main agencies involved in different parts of criminal justice service. The aims are to encourage joint working to improve the overall service and performance of the legal system, secure an increase in the number of offences brought to justice, provide care for people who are victims and witnesses of crime and improve public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Paul Whitaker CBE, Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS Mersey-Cheshire is the new Chair of the board. The board is made up of Chief Officers from Merseyside Police, Her Majesty's Court Service, Probation Service, Prison Service, Youth Offending Service, a Local Authority Chief Executive and a representative from the Legal Services Commission