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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 May 2006, 19:31 GMT 20:31 UK
Convictions too few - Goldsmith
Lord Goldsmith
Lord Goldsmith said victims had a right to be worried
Conviction rates for serious offences such as wounding and rape are too low, the Attorney General has admitted.

Lord Goldsmith said victims had a right to be worried but the government was working to tackle the problem and more offenders were being taken to court.

He was responding to an Observer study which claimed convictions for crimes such as rape and wounding had fallen below 10% since Labour came to power.

The Tories said it showed ministers were losing control of violent crime.

The newspaper reported that cases of serious wounding had risen by more than half in the last 10 years to almost 20,000 annually, while the conviction rate in prosecutions for the offence had fallen from 14.8% to 9.7%.

Police recorded nearly 13,000 rapes in 2004-05, double the total for 1997, while the conviction rate plunged from 9.2% to 5.5% in the same period.

And while robberies had fallen from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2002 to 88,710 in 2004-05, the total remained far higher than the 63,072 recorded in 1997. Over the period, conviction rates fell from 10.2% to 8.9%.

'Out of control'

The investigation found many suspects were set free because cases were not ready, because witnesses had pulled out or evidence was unreliable.

Lord Goldsmith admitted victims of crime had a right to be worried but said police, prosecutors and criminal justice agencies were now working much more closely together to increase the number of convictions.

If the only cases we brought to court were racing certainties, we would have a lot of villains walking the streets who had been let off without ever getting to court
Lord Goldsmith

"The figures are demonstrating that we are bringing more offenders to justice, there are fewer trials that fail because things are not ready, there are more guilty pleas taking place," he told BBC Radio 5 Live's The Weekend News.

He added that it was "important" to make sure there were no procedural problems, such as witnesses not turning up or unreliable material, by the time cases got to court.

Lord Goldsmith also said it had to be accepted that some cases would fail.

"If the only cases we brought to court were racing certainties, we would have a lot of villains walking the streets who had been let off without ever getting to court," he said.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said ministers were "burying their heads in the sand" by denying that they were losing control of violent crime.

"It is self-evident that if the risk of being caught and convicted falls dramatically, as it has done in the last nine years, violent crime will get out of control and the public will face unnecessary risk," he said.

Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman said the figures undermined the credibility of the government on the same scale as recent controversies facing the Home Office.

"It is a sign of Tony Blair's failure that 70% of young offenders re-offend within two years of leaving prison, and now we know that serious offences lead to a lower rate of convictions".


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear Lord Goldsmith speaking on BBC Five Live



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