Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 13:10 UK

Prosecutors set to consult public

Barrister in wig
Prosecutors, police and the public will identify offences to be prioritised

Plans for a network of "community prosecutors" to liaise with the public in tackling crime have been announced by the government.

The scheme is part of a Green Paper on community justice in England and Wales.

Senior prosecuting lawyers will work with police and the public to prioritise offences. Case outcomes will also be publicised online.

The new package of measures will be tried out in 30 areas to test the impact of the initiatives.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said the challenge now "is to increase public confidence".

The document also suggests giving members of the public a say in how assets seized from criminals are used.

A scheme for "citizen panels" - which will choose the type of work offenders who have been given community penalties should carry out - is to be rolled out across the country.

People must have more influence in how justice is delivered in their villages, towns and cities
Jack Straw, Justice Secretary

The areas identified for the initiatives cover Greater London, Merseyside, South Wales, Leicestershire, Cheshire, South Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire, West Midlands, Cleveland, Humberside, Nottingham, and Greater Manchester.

They include plans for community impact statements, which will give communities the chance to feed in their views on crimes in their area and the impact the crimes have had on local people.

And virtual community justice teams are to be established, with the intention of applying a more intensive problem-solving approach to anti-social and criminal behaviour.

Mr Straw said he wanted people to have full confidence in the justice system.

"An important part of this is ensuring that justice is done and seen to be done," he said.

"The package we are announcing represents a fundamental shift towards giving communities more of a say in the justice system.

"People must have more influence in how justice is delivered in their villages, towns and cities - and that is exactly what [this] Green Paper sets out to achieve."

'Understand and trust'

The move to give prosecutors a bigger role in communities is based on an American idea.

From this summer, local crime concerns could be taken into account in decisions over whether to charge suspected offenders.

The government also wants people to have more information about convictions and sentencing, and plans to publicise these details on a website.

But plans for the home delivery of leaflets publicising the outcomes of trials, have been dropped from the document.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "If people understand and trust the criminal justice system and see it as a public service, they will be able to get on with their lives without fear of crime, secure in the knowledge that there are tough consequences for those who break the rules.

"This document provides an opportunity for the people to have a say on a crucial system which has their needs at its heart."

Community engagement

The Attorney General, Baroness Scotland QC, oversees the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is responsible for deciding the charge and taking to court the majority of criminal cases in England and Wales.

She said: "Prosecutors are increasingly engaged with the people they serve, routinely engaging with victims and witnesses in person, and explaining decisions to communities and the wider public.

"The community prosecutor approach will enable the CPS to be more visible to, and better understood by, their local communities."

Government crime adviser Louise Casey has said that improved communication about prosecutions will build public trust in the criminal justice system.

Last year, Ms Casey suggested that police failed to tell the public about successes, which perpetuated "myths" about crime.

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