THE Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in County Durham is launching an initiative in the North-East to deal with cases of domestic violence in special courts.

The move is one of a number of improvements in the organisation. Another is the launch of CPS Direct - a round-the-clock service to strengthen ties with police.

Senior Crown prosecutor and High Court advocate David Crook said that a quarter of all violent offences were domestic and cases tended to be heard in the magistrates' courts.

But in the new year, County Durham CPS will launch special courts to hear such cases, as well as those relating to racial, religious and homophobic offences.

While it will still be an open court, Mr Crook said the new court would offer protection to witnesses - fundamentally important in increasing people's confidence in the justice system.

The setting-up of a witness care unit in Peterlee has further strengthened this support by improving experiences for witnesses from the moment a crime is reported to the police.

A second unit is expected to be set up in the south of the county.

CPS Direct, which is already running in Newcastle and Northumbria, will come into practice in County Durham in the new year, providing a 24-hour link with the police.

The police are required to take advice from the CPS on serious criminal cases before charging a suspect, but solicitors are only available from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Mr Crook said that this had led to charges being made without advice and people going before the courts when there was insufficient evidence. The new service will ensure that police officers are always able to get legal advice before making charges.

Mr Crook said: "The relationship between the police and the CPS has always been good in County Durham, but now we will be working even more closely.

"We advise them on strengthening the evidence needed to get a case and so we can stop wasting time and giving false hope to victims of cases that will undoubtedly fail."