THE Crown Prosecution Service in County Durham is launching a unique initiative in the North-East that will see cases of domestic violence dealt with in special courts.

The move comes as one of a number of improvements in the organisation, including the launch of CPS direct, a round-the-clock service to strengthen ties with the local police force.

Senior crown prosecutor and High Court advocate, David Crook, said that a quarter of all violent offences are domestic and cases tend 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 racially and religiously aggravated offences or homophobic offences.

While it will still be an open court, Mr Crook said it will offer support and protection to witnesses, which is fundamental 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 in the near future.

CPS Direct, which is already successful running in Newcastle and Northumbria, will come into practice in County Durham in the New Year, providing a 24-hour link with the police, seven days a week.

At the moment the police are required to take advice from the CPS on more serious criminal cases before laying a charge - but solicitors are only available between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Fridays.

Mr Crook said that this has led to charges being put without advice and people going before the courts when there is insufficient evidence or when it is not in the public interest.

The new service will ensure that police officers are always able to get legal advice before putting a charge.

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 with them.

"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."