Figures show justice in Norfolk is swift

RICHARD BALLS More and more criminals are pleading guilty to offences and fewer cases are collapsing or being delayed in the courts, according to the latest figures for Norfolk.

RICHARD BALLS

More and more criminals are pleading guilty to offences and fewer cases are collapsing or being delayed in the courts, according to the latest figures for Norfolk.

Criminal justice chiefs yesterday said the number of cases in which people had been either convicted or given a caution had risen by 15pc over the past year, and the system was now reaping the benefits of a number of initiatives designed to make the entire justice process more efficient.

One such scheme is known as 'statutory charging' which involves Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers working alongside officers in police stations and advising on what charges to bring against offenders being dealt with on a 24-hour basis.

As a result, cases with no hope of success are being dropped at the earliest possible stage, possible legal problems are being ironed out at an early stage and more guilty pleas are being entered.

Senior figures in the police, CPS, Probation Service and courts acknowledge that much is still needed to be done to bolster public confidence in the criminal justice system, particularly in the light of recent controversies about serious offences committed by offenders released early from prison or under the supposed supervision of probation officers.

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But they hope the latest statistics will help reassure people that agencies are working more closely than ever before to ensure that crime is reduced, those who offend are brought to book and the penalties handed to them are enforced.

The figures - revealed by the Norfolk Criminal Justice Board set up in 2003 - show that:

the number of offenders brought to justice rose from 14,799 in 2004-05 to 16,973 in 2005-06;

the value of confiscation orders increased from £0.8m to £3.5m;

there were 725 completions of unpaid work in the community, against a target of 664;

there were 48 completions of Drug Treatment & Testing Orders and Drug Rehabilitation Requirements, against a target of 43;

95pc of pre-sentence reports were produced to the court's timescale, against a target of 90pc;

194 offenders dealt with by probation officers gained employment, compared with a target of 199.

Peter Tidey, chief crown prosecutor for Norfolk, said the introduction of statutory charging had helped to increase the number of guilty pleas and prevent unnecessary delays or even the collapse of cases in court.

“We have an adjournment culture which is partly why the public don't have confidence in the system,” he said. “If we can make improvements, the system will be more efficient and we will free up more court time to deal with more cases. Statutory charging is just one way of trying to create better efficiency in the system.”

Carole Howlett, chief constable of Norfolk police, said the rate of 'sanction detections' - which are measured by the force's performance on charges, summonses and cautions - had risen by a quarter in the past 12 months and the number of offenders brought to justice had climbed by 15pc.

Much more stringent powers in relation to the confiscation of offenders' assets, such as the proceeds of drugs gangs, had meanwhile seen the value of confiscation orders soar, although this did not mean the money would be retrieved.

She said: “We now have 11 financial investigators in the police, focusing on hitting the perpetrators where it really hurts - in their pockets.”