Ministers have been urged to introduce a “victims’ law” to stop people losing faith in the criminal justice system. The move comes after new data revealed that the number of crime victims who decline to press charges has more than doubled in five years.

Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner, and Victim Support, the independent charity, have both called on the government to make good on a longstanding promise to create a law that gives crime victims enforceable rights about how they are treated by the police and courts.

They say victims often feel forgotten and find it hard to get help in dealing with the mental and financial effects of crime. Figures last week showed almost a quarter (23%) of cases last year were dropped because the victim did not support further action, compared with 8.7% in 2015.

“Almost half of people who have been to court [as a witness or victim] wouldn’t go near it again,” Baird told the Observer. “The criminal justice system can’t afford that flight from support to continue, or it will find itself confounded in its attempt to do justice.”

Although many victims are shown great kindness by individual police officers, court staff and probation officers, they often get little support in dealing with the complexities of the justice system, Baird said.

Even simply finding out when an offender is due in court can be hit or miss, she said. Victims can wait at court for hours only to be turned away because of a backlog of cases. One young man who had been raped spent hours at court, only to discover the case was put back for seven months. “It was nobody’s fault, but this young man, raging with fear, was brought in, sent back, and all because nobody has a role to directly take responsibility for him,” she said.

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Almost half of all crown court rooms are empty, and cases take an average of 525 days to complete, but when cases do come to court, victims and witnesses can be put off by the possibility of having to face the defendant and their supporters in the court building.

Ayesha Nayyar, a solicitor, said the public would be “horrified” if they knew how victims are treated. The Law Society’s Sole Practitioner of the Year, Nayyar is co-presenting a BBC series, Crime: Are We Tough Enough?, that begins on Mondaymorning. It features the family of Yousef Makki, a 17-year-old who was stabbed to death. “During the trial they shared the corridors and the waiting area with the defendants’ families. They had to sit among them,” Nayyar said. “We’ve got to think, how are we treating the victims of crime?”

Diana Fawcett, the chief executive of Victim Support, said the government needed to act urgently to make courts fit for purpose. “Long waits for trial cause stress and anxiety among victims, and can undermine public confidence in justice,” she said. “Courts must have separate facilities for victims and defendants, such as entrances and waiting areas.”

Victims face “a lottery” of access to support, she said. “A victims’ law must ensure that victims’ rights, such as to information, making a personal statement and accessing independent support services, are legally enforceable.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “This government is committed to strengthening the rights of victims, with a new victims’ law to be consulted on early this year.

“A new victims’ code will set out the level of service that victims can expect from the criminal justice system, making sure they have access to the best possible support when they need it.”

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