Prosecutions in England and Wales fall to record low

About 1.59 million people dealt with by criminal justice system in year to March, data shows

Two police officers handcuff a man
Two-thirds of prosecutions are brought to court by authorities other than police. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The number of people being prosecuted or handed out-of-court warnings or fines fell to its lowest level since records began, as recorded crime continued to rise, official figures have shown.

There were 1.59 million people formally dealt with by the criminal justice system in England and Wales between April 2018 and March 2019, a fall of 2% on the previous period, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

The number of people prosecuted across all courts fell by 1% overall, although the number of defendants brought before magistrates courts remained broadly the same as the previous year, according to the figures.

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But the number of people taken to court for indictable offences – serious crimes dealt with by a crown court – dropped by 8%, which is similar to the fall in the number of offences being charged by police.

This was set against a backdrop of an 8% rise in police recorded crime to 5.3m offences, excluding fraud, and a 3% increase on the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which records people’s experiences of crime, to 6.4m incidents.

Figures released in July also showed fewer than one in 12 offences (7.8%) resulted in a charge or summons in the year to March, compared with 15% in 2014-15.

Richard Atkins QC, the chair of Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, said: “Criminals up and down the country will be rubbing their hands with glee knowing that even if their crimes are detected and they are caught by the police, the chances of them being prosecuted or jailed are slim.

“These statistics make for grim reading. However, the state of the criminal justice system is far worse than the figures show. The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service said recently that overall police [crime] detection rates nationally are woefully low and that the courts are emptying, not filling.

“If crime is not detected, it cannot be recorded, investigated or prosecuted, so the official figures are just the tip of an iceberg. Criminals are going about their business unchallenged: fraud goes virtually unpunished and is not even included in the statistics.”

He added: “The recent focus on the state of the criminal justice system by the government is welcome, as are the additional resources, but the whole system is broken or breaking and the focus needs to be on every part: legal aid and access to legal representation, prosecution, courts, forensic science, probation, as well as police and prisons.”

The number of people on police bail fell by 16%, while there fewer out-of-court disposals (pdf) used, with a 22,300 (9%) drop to 215,000, continuing a steady decline over the past 10 years. Only the use of community resolutions increased, by 3% to 105,600.

About two-thirds of prosecutions are brought to court by authorities other than police, such as councils or the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

Last week the government announced an additional £85m for the Crown Prosecution Service.

A MoJspokesman said: “We are doing more to restore public confidence in the justice system - investing in police and prison places, and reviewing sentencing to make sure violent and sexual offenders are properly punished.”