VICTIMS of crime have had a raw deal in the justice system, a top Crown Prosecution Service official has admitted.
But Neil Franklin, Chief Prosecutor for the CPS in West Yorkshire says moves are under way to change that.
Mr Franklin spoke out while revealing changes to the way cases are prosecuted in a bid to get more success in court.
He said: "Our ultimate aim is to improve public confidence in the CPS so people who are victims or witnesses are willing to come forward and give evidence in the courts."
He admitted: "Victims and witnesses have had a raw deal in the past."
Recent surveys have shown that public confidence in the justice system is about 37% and the target is to push that up to 45% by 2006.
It has emerged that criminals prey on this lack of public confidence in a bid to wriggle out of justice.
Paul O'Hara, a youth offending team manager in West Yorkshire, said: "Our experience is that many offenders plead not guilty in the hope that witnesses will not turn up in court."
And yet it is claimed the courts are handing out more prison sentences than ever before.
West Yorkshire Chief Probation Officer Paul Wilson said: "Courts have toughened up in recent years and there has been a huge rise in punitive sentences.
"The prison population was just over 50,000 in 1991. It is now 75,000."
Mr Franklin said a new national scheme called No Witness No Justice was now being set up and will be run by CPS and police staff.
Their role will be to keep victims and witnesses fully informed on cases while they are being prepared for court.
"That has not happened in the past," said Mr Franklin.
"We will also look at problems that might impact on them in their role as witnesses.
"These could range from sorting out childcare for court days through to helping them with the cost of getting to court.
"We are going to ensure we provide a proper service for them."
But he accepted the boost in public confidence would not happen immediately.
"Funding has improved, but it is a long way short of what we need," he said.
"Yet, in the long term, we will drive confidence up."
THE Crown Prosecution Service now decides what to charge offenders with - not the police.
The change was officially made in mid-May, but the system has been operating across West Yorkshire over the last few months.
The aim is that CPS lawyers will spot potential flaws in evidence early on.
They will also decide on the right charge to speed the process through court and lead to more successful prosecutions.
Over the last year, 49,622 offences have been brought to court in West Yorkshire - a rise of just over 5% on the previous year.
The figure does not include minor motoring offences, any which were discontinued or where the accused was acquitted.
The target for the coming year is to increase the number by another 7%.
By being brought to justice, the CPS means the cases have been proved in court, the offences have been taken into consideration - formally admitted by the criminal - or the offender has received a formal caution.
A West Yorkshire Criminal Justice Board was set up last year, to bring together chief officers from the police, probation service, courts, the CPS, youth teams and prisons.
The main change is that CPS lawyers are now based in police stations. They work with police to assess the evidence and spot any potential difficulties before a case goes to courts.
This will reduce the risk of the case being thrown out in court or the seriousness of the charge against the accused being lessened.
A West Yorkshire police spokesman said: "This means that cases taken to court will be the strongest possible.
"It has been a bit of a culture shock. Up to May 17, it was the police's decision on what charges to bring."