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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Blunkett pressed on crime reform
David Blunkett in a Leeds prison
Blunkett has tried to ease prison overcrowding
Home Secretary David Blunkett has been urged to tackle "defects" in the criminal justice system when he announces his reform plans on Tuesday.

His Conservative counterpart Oliver Letwin is pressing for improvements in law enforcement and the courts, to improve efficiency and help victims.

Mr Blunkett will unveil his plans to the Justice Clerks' Society in Cardiff on Tuesday and will publish a White Paper on the reforms next month.

Meanwhile, the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is under further scrutiny, after its inspectors suggested it needlessly dropped 11,000 cases last year.
Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
Letwin is demanding greater efficiency

The CPS handling of the Damilola Taylor case is the subject of a high-level inquiry, after two boys were acquitted of murder.

Mr Letwin wrote to Mr Blunkett highlighting what he saw as five major defects.

He said: "I hope you will make it clear that a lasting reform of our criminal justice system needs not only to make that system vastly more efficient and more responsive to the concerns of victims and witnesses, but also to respect and enshrine the protection of our liberties that have proved so robust over so long a time."

Mr Letwin said there was too much overlap and confusion between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which he claimed delayed trials and brought disillusionment to witnesses and victims.

The shadow home secretary criticised the lack of "proper and seamless connections" between law enforcement agencies, the prison service, the courts and social services.

'Inefficient'

He also called for greater local accountability, increased transparency in sentencing and a fundamental reform of youth justice.

In reply, a Home Office spokeswoman said the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and Lord Justice Auld's review of the criminal courts had made important recommendations which were being considered.

She conceded the criminal justice agencies sometimes worked slowly and inefficiently.

"Better and closer collaboration is one of the key issues that the government is addressing and whilst we cannot pre-empt the criminal justice White Paper, work on this has been progressing," said the spokeswoman, adding the probation service was to be restructured.

The CPS should be completely overhauled and held to account for failing the victims of crime

Norman Brennan
Victims of Crime Trust

She said the home secretary was well aware of the importance of local accountability and more "sensible" sentencing.

And he had already begun reforming youth justice through initiatives such as tagging.

Meanwhile, campaigners are calling for an overhaul of the CPS after it revealed it may have wrongly discontinued 11,000 cases last year.

HM Chief Inspector Stephen Wooler said inspectors disagreed with 6.8% of decisions to discontinue during that time.

'Concern'

Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "The CPS should be completely overhauled and held to account for failing the victims of crime."

A spokesman for Victim Support told the Guardian newspaper he was "greatly concerned" by the figures, and said: "Justice is clearly not being done and that effectively results in secondary victimisation of victims and witnesses."

Mr Wooler noted there had been some improvements, but stressed there was still a waste of resources and unnecessary inconvenience to witnesses.

David Calvert-Smith QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions promised improvements.

See also:

30 Apr 02 | Business
Half of business crime 'unreported'
01 May 02 | UK Politics
Party leaders clash over crime
16 Apr 02 | Education
Police 'not patrolling playgrounds'
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