Stretched resources blamed for drop in prosecution rates

15 Aug 19

The number of individuals prosecuted through the criminal justice system in England and Wales hit record lows last year despite rising crime, data has shown.

Ministry of Justice statistics published today showed the number of people formally dealt with in the system fell by 2% to 1.59 million in the last financial year.

Although, the figures also showed that police recorded crime rose by 8% to 5.3 million over the same period between April 2018 and March 2019.

Prosecutions for the most serious - indictable - offences fell by 8%, which is similar to the decrease in the number of offences charged by the police, the MoJ release said.

The total number of defendants prosecuted at magistrates’ courts remained broadly stable compared to the financial before, although the figures over all showed the number of individuals prosecuted at all courts fell by 1%.

Magistrates prosecuted 1.38 million defendants this year compared to 1.39m last.

Prison sentence length has continued to rise steadily over the past decade, going from an average length of 13.5 months overall in March 2009 to 17.2 months this March.

The number of first-time offenders convicted of the most serious offences fell for the third year in a row from 30,700 in the year to March 2016 to 26,000 in the 2018-2019 financial year, the MoJ said.

National chair of the Police Federation John Apter blamed the drop in prosecutions on “diminishing resources”, which was happening at a time of rising demand, he added.  

He said: “The police service has lost almost 22,000 officers since 2010 meaning fewer officers on the ground identifying and apprehending criminals, fewer detectives preparing cases, carrying out the detailed investigations required to secure charges against those who commit crimes.

“And when you consider the Crown Prosecution and court services have been subjected to the same austerity measures you start to understand some of the context behind these figures.”  

Richard Atkins, chair of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, said criminals would be “rubbing their hands with glee” at the stats.

He suggested data was the “tip of the iceberg” and highlighted the words of the Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick, when she said in a speech this June that crime detection rates were “woefully low”.

The MoJ figures have been released in the same week that prime minster Boris Johnson ordered an “urgent review” of sentencing policy, which is expected to lead to tougher sentences for violent crimes.

Johnson also announced this week £85m for the Crown Prosecution Service to help manage caseloads and £2.5bn to create 10,000 new prison places in England and Wales.

Did you enjoy this article?