National witness scheme to launch
The first national witness protection service is to be launched in a bid to improve the "inconsistent" approach to safeguarding vulnerable people whose lives are at risk.
Victims and witnesses given protected person status will be supported by the new UK Protected Persons Service, victims minister Helen Grant said.
Just over one in four collapsed prosecutions last year were a result of witnesses or victims being unwilling to give evidence, said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), despite £19 million a year being spent on protection services annually.
The UK-wide service, which will launch in December 2013, will tackle the lack of "uniform standards of delivery" across the country in witness protection, said the MoJ.
The announcement follows on from a wider drive to improve support for victims, which included criminals paying more towards victims' services and stopping criminals with unspent convictions claiming victims' compensation money.
Police chiefs have previously called for a national witness protection scheme and backed the move.
Acpo lead for protected persons Assistant Chief Constable Andy Cooke said a national service would "strengthen the fight against organised crime".
He said: "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."
There were 600 cases of witness protection this year, covering up to 3,000 people. But some 18% of witnesses who attended court to give evidence in 2009/10 reported that they or their family felt intimidated at some point and 40% reported concerns about coming into contact with the defendant and their supporters, the MoJ said.
The UK Protected Persons Service will introduce national quality standards and will aim to improve co-ordination across existing services, promote intelligence sharing between police forces and strengthen local services. It will receive a one-off £211,000 investment from the MoJ and Home Office to get the service off the ground.