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Cracking Crime Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Calls for jury law reforms
The public wants juries to get more information
The public overwhelmingly supports juries being told about the criminal record of someone standing trial, according to a survey commissioned by the BBC.

Respondents also said they were pessimistic about the chances of the police solving crimes once they had been reported.

ICM spoke to a nationally representative sample of just over 1,000 people across the UK, ahead of BBC One's Cracking Crime day on Wednesday.

More than three-quarters thought juries should know a defendant's previous criminal record before they considered their verdict.

It is currently a strict principle of British justice that criminal records are not revealed in court, unless strictly relevant.

'Wrongful convictions'

The survey also revealed less than a fifth of respondents (19%) would reach a verdict solely on the evidence presented at trial.

John Wadham, director of human rights organisation Liberty, said there were "real dangers" in revealing previous convictions to juries.

"Where they're directly relevant, juries can already be told; telling juries about them in general may get the result the government wants - more convictions - but far too many of them will be the wrongful convictions of innocent people," he said.

Telling juries would focus their attention on the person rather than the alleged crime, he added.

On criminal justice, 55% said prisoners should always serve the full sentence set by the judge, with just 7% supporting early release for good behaviour.

Almost a quarter of over 55-year-olds are also so afraid of being mugged that they would not leave their homes at night.

Crime survey
28% never seen beat officer
24% over-55s afraid to go out at night
55% believe street crime has risen in past six months
32% of people with children aged 10-16 would not let them out after dark
7% in high crime areas mugged in past year
Source: BBC/ICM poll
And 28% of people of all ages claim they have never seen a police officer on the beat in their area.

Those questioned said the best way of making them feel safer in public places would be to put more police on the streets, followed by more CCTV cameras.

More than half (53%) of those surveyed said they thought street crime had increased in the past six months.

Norman Brennan, a serving police officer who also represents the Victims of Crime Trust, supported the call for more bobbies on the beat.

He told BBC News Online: "When the public see a visible presence they are reassured and will interact with officers, which means police are advised on crimes and can target them.

"At the moment people are fearful of walking the streets."

Some of those surveyed said they were reluctant to report crimes because they expected few results.

What people want
More police on streets
More CCTV cameras
Source: BBC/ICM poll
Four-fifths (80%) were not confident the police would catch a burglar or car thief, while nearly three-quarters (71%) said the same thing about a mugger.

But not everyone blamed law enforcers for this perceived failing.

Some (35%) believed they lacked sufficient resources to catch muggers, while 22% said too much officer time was taken up with paperwork.

Paul Fawcett, a spokesman for Victim Support, said it was important to report crimes even if people feared the criminals would not be caught.

He told BBC News Online: "If nobody knows you are a victim then no-one knows to come looking and ask if you need help.

And he added: "Only by accurately knowing how much crime there is can the government put resources in to try to deal with it."

Cannabis confusion

The survey also revealed widespread confusion on the government's drug policy, with only 15% of people realising that it was still illegal to smoke cannabis.

This was even more extreme among 14-20-year-olds, with just 5% aware of the drug's legal status.

Violent crime has gone through the roof

Norman Brennan, Victims of Crime Trust
But almost half (46%) did not think the government's cannabis policy - under which the drug will be downgraded but remain illegal - would have any effect on overall crime levels.

ICM asked people living there about their experiences of crime, in the worst-affected areas, home to new government initiatives.

Of those questioned in the 10 areas with specific street crime programmes, 7% said they, or a member of their immediate family, had been mugged in the past 12 months.

The government has issued interim figures claiming it is beginning to get street crime under control.

Mr Brennan said he had seen little evidence of Prime Minister Tony Blair's election pledge to be 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'.

He said: "What has this government achieved since coming into power?

"Violent crime has gone through the roof, rape is up, homicide was up 11% last year and this year will hit the highest level since World War II."

BBC One's Cracking Crime day will include a range of programmes from 1900 BST on Wednesday 18 September.

Presenters Nick Ross, Fiona Bruce and Peter Snow will be analysing the poll findings, and what they mean to viewers.

The public will also have chance to put questions to key crime decision-makers, including Home Secretary David Blunkett, in a live discussion programme at 2235 BST.


Background stories

Should juries know about past convictions?



5404 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

18 Sep 02 | England
Judge calls for jury law review
17 Sep 02 | UK News
Police red tape 'to be halved'
12 Sep 02 | Politics
Street crime pledge 'met'
24 Apr 02 | Politics
Blair sets street crime deadline
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