Revealed: criminal justice in chaos

Shock figures show just 326,000 convicted for 5.2 million crimes
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Millions of crimes are going unpunished each year and tens of millions of pounds spent in the justice system are being wasted, according to a damning report from the Government's spending watchdog.

Millions of crimes are going unpunished each year and tens of millions of pounds spent in the justice system are being wasted, according to a damning report from the Government's spending watchdog.

The Audit Commission will reveal tomorrow that only 326,000 offenders were convicted between 2000 and 2001 despite police recording 5.2 million offences. Around £80m is wasted each year through adjournments and cancellations of trials.

The figures show a criminal justice system in chaos with "delays and inefficiencies throughout the process" and "cases dropping out of the system unnecessarily, allowing offenders to evade justice".

The report, which demands "radical change", comes amid new worries over rising crime rates. Reports last night said the Government is set to publish figures showing a 6 per cent increase in the number of offences in England and Wales in the year to March 2002 ­ the biggest rise for a decade. The increase is being driven by a sharp rise in burglaries and street muggings.

Tony Blair has already pledged to make crime reduction a priority. This week, he will be a key speaker at a London conference on modernising criminal justice, organised by the Metropolitan Police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr Blair is expected to tell delegates at the conference that too many criminals are evading justice. He will also call for defendants' past convictions to be made available to juries if relevant.

That is one of a raft of proposals in a White Paper on criminal justice reform due to be published this summer. The Prime Minister has already announced that the Government is committed to reducing street crime by the end of September.

"The pendulum has swung too far in favour of the defendant," said a senior Home Office source. "We appreciate that their rights need to be upheld but so do victims'. More needs to be done to speed up the criminal justice process."

The police and Home Office have already announced measures to relieve demands on officers as crime soars.

They include the introduction of police community support officers. The officers will initially have the powers of private citizens but the Government plans to extend their role so they can detain suspected criminals until a police officer arrives.

However, it has now emerged that the force has al-ready drawn up a redundancy package to pay off the support officers after three years, the duration of existing budgeting.

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, will also speak at the London conference. Last week, he released figures that showed 11 crimes were reported every minute in England and Wales. They came from the first 24-hour snapshot study of a typical day in the criminal justice system. It found 16,500 crimes were reported in England and Wales on 1 May.