Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 17 of Session 2002-03, dated 8 May 2003


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today that the Home Office must devise a proper national strategy for victim and witness support services.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 17th Report of this Session, which examined the services to victims and witnesses provided by the Home Office, primarily through funding the charity Victim Support; and the Home Office's wider objective to increase confidence in the criminal justice system.

The Committee found that the Home Office has yet to establish clearly the support services it wishes to deliver for victims and witnesses, and in particular whether to establish a universal support service, or whether instead to fund voluntary bodies delivering a service to the extent of their capability.

Victim Support and other voluntary sector organisations have done much to promote support for victims and witnesses of crime, but the Home Office's reliance on largely voluntary effort makes it more difficult to provide a consistent level of support services across the country. Access to existing services depends, for example, on the availability of volunteers and the level of funds raised by local Victim Support charities from sources other than the Home Office grant-in-aid. As a result, the provision of support to victims in some high crime areas is less comprehensive than elsewhere in the country.

The level of support provided to victims and witnesses is central to achieving wider objectives of the criminal justice system, in particular encouraging victims and witnesses to report crime, and to give evidence at a subsequent criminal trial. The Home Office should therefore specify the desired national outcomes for a victim and witness service, and then devise a strategy to achieve the outcomes, taking into account the costs, and considering the range of funding options, public, private and charitable. The challenge for the Home Office is to retain the valuable voluntary contribution but to deliver a service which meets more fully the needs of victims and witnesses, and consistently across the country.

The Home Office has been slow to put in place appropriate accountability arrangements for the funding it provides to Victim Support. Some two years after the grant-in-aid memorandum was finalised no targets have been set for the Charity, despite a recommendation made over eight years ago by Home Office consultants. Having defined clearly the core services it is seeking from the Charity, the Home Office should put in place appropriate targets for 2003-04.

Mr Leigh said today:

"Victim Support's staff and volunteers provide a dedicated and professional service which is highly valued by victims and witnesses. But the Home Office's reliance on voluntary efforts means that victim and witness support varies across the country, with less comprehensive support in some high crime areas. Those affected by crime deserve to have the same services wherever they live and this, in turn, is vital in encouraging people to report crime. The Home Office must therefore devise a proper national strategy, deciding on the proper balance between public, private and charitable funding."

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