Press release

UK wide protection for witnesses as new national scheme launched

Witnesses and other vulnerable people whose lives could be at risk will receive enhanced UK-wide protection and support following the announcement…

Witnesses and other vulnerable people whose lives could be at risk will receive enhanced UK-wide protection and support following the announcement of the first UK Protected Persons Service, Victims’ Minister Helen Grant said today.

People afforded protected person status due to a real and immediate risk to their lives will receive expert protection from a national service to support those who help bring criminals to justice. Victims and witnesses of the Morecambe Bay disaster in Lancashire, witnesses to the murder of Rhys Jones and also to gun and gang crime such as Operation Trident are just some of the individuals who have been afforded Protected Person status in the past.

Victims’ Minister Helen Grant said:

“Witnesses are the unsung heroes of society, especially those who could be jeopardising their own safety. I cannot thank them enough for the vital role they play in bringing criminals to justice.

“We are clear any witness whose life could be in danger must be given the best possible protection. The UK Protected Persons Service will ensure those in need receive the expert protection and support no matter wherever they are in the UK.”

ACPO lead for protected persons Assistant Chief Constable, Andy Cooke said:

‘A UK-wide protected persons service which is regionally delivered by the police service, but coordinated through the National Crime Agency, will strengthen the fight against organised crime.

‘Chief Constables support the plan for its development and believe it will provide a more consistent approach to delivery of protected persons services across the country. The service will be working closely with government and the NCA to bring this new national service into being.’

Witness protection plays an important role in tackling organised crime and securing convictions in a number of the most serious and violent crimes. At present protected person services are inconsistent, variable and lack uniform standards of delivery. Last year just over one in four (27%) of collapsed prosecutions were as a result of witness or victim reticence to give evidence.12 In 2009/10 18%3 of witnesses who attended court to give evidence reported that they or their family felt intimidated at some point and 40%4 reported concerns about coming into contact with the defendant and their supporters.

The UK Protected Persons Service will ensure that witnesses and other vulnerable individuals whose lives are at risk receive every possible protection and support. It will do this by:

  • Introducing national quality standards,
  • Ensuring better co-ordination across existing fragmented services,
  • Promoting intelligence sharing between police forces, and
  • Strengthening local services to create a consistent and accountable service. 

Notes to editors:

For further information or to request an interview please contact Alicia Kearns in the Ministry of Justice Press Office on 020 3334 3519.

  1. This announcement follows on from the government setting out its commitment to improve support for victims and witnesses and in particular to focus resources on those in most need such as victims of serious crime in its response to the consultation on victims and witnesses.
  2. The Government has already introduced emergency legislation in the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008 (replaced by Chapter 2 in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009), after the House of Lords ruled that legislation was needed to allow the practice to continue. The legislation allows the courts to hear evidence anonymously where witnesses are fearful of the consequences of being identified.
  3. The Witness and Victim Experience Survey (WAVES) covers victims and prosecution witnesses aged 18 and over involved in cases which resulted in a criminal charge and which have been closed. The findings presented in this report are primarily based on responses from 37,779 interviews with victims (n=19,032) and witnesses (n=18,747), relating to cases finalised by the CJS in 2009-10. Note this is just a sample of the witnesses from cases finalised by the CJS in 2009-10.
  4. The Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Association of Chief Police Officers are working together to implement the nationwide UK Protected Persons Service which will come in to force in December 2013 under the National Crime Agency.

  1. Crown Prosecution Service data 2011/2012.
  2. Only a small proportion of these were as a result of fear of serious harm
  3. Franklyn (2012), Satisfaction and willingness to engage with the Criminal Justice System. Data from the Witness and Victims Experience Survey (WAVES) 2009/10.
  4. Ibid.

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