Crime: Victim charity in plea for more help

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The Independent Online
The Government should pay for a support service to help witnesses in all criminal courts, according to the Victim Support charity in its annual report today.

At present, the Witness Service, run by Victim Support and funded by the Government, provides information and support for victims, witnesses and their families only in crown court cases. Last year, 97,600 took advantage of the help, a rise of 25 per cent on the previous year. However, the charity points out that more than 90 per cent of cases are only heard in magistrates courts where there is little support for witnesses. The charity says in some areas it has set up ad hoc groups in magistrates courts, using money from private donors, the National Lottery and charitable trusts, but believes the Government should fund a nationwide service.

Helen Reeves, director of Victim Support, who will press the case with the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, at the charity's annual general meeting today, described the service in magistrates courts as the "missing piece of the jigsaw". She said: "There are over 500 magistrates courts in England and Wales and many of them are stuck in the past with no support for victims and witnesses."