What do crime statistics tell us about the state of our courts?

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Created on November 18, 2016

What do crime statistics tell us about the state of our courts?

The number of people and businesses being dealt with by the criminal courts has been declining steadily since 2007. There was a modest rise in 2015 but according to the MoJ this could be accounted for by an increase in motoring prosecutions – indictable cases still fell.

In 2015, the figure stood at 1.72m, the lowest since the statistics were first compiled in 1970. At the same time, the number of offenders convicted and sentenced rose slightly and the conviction ratio increased by 1% to 83% (this conviction rate includes guilty pleas. The MoJ reveals that the rate of people receiving custodial sentences for more minor offences has decreased while the length of sentence for more serious offenders has been increasing.

What type of people are coming before the courts? Well, increasingly, it is not first-time offenders. The number of “new entrants”, as they are called, has fallen by 54% since 2007 and amongst youths the figure is over 80%. Sexual offences in the courts rose 3% on the previous year as did the sentences being passed.

The Crime Survey is compiled in a different manner and it is difficult to compare crime statistics with those relating to the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, total estimated crime was down 7% on 2014 and the lowest since 1981. At the same time – the figure for police recorded crime was up 3%. The number of out of court disposals (excluding community resolutions has decreased year on year since 2008. “Community Resolutions” are aimed at first-time offenders and low-level crime and are a method of diverting people from the criminal justice system. There is insufficient data to discern any trend but they accounted for nearly 120,000 disposals in the year to March 2015.

Figures are compiled for indictable offences (which includes both indictable-only and either-way offences). There has been a decline in the number of indictable offences over the last few years with theft down 8% and drugs offences down 11% in one year alone. 7% of cases were sent to the Crown Court which is a significant increase on the 4% recorded in 2005. This is probably explained by the increase in either-way offences being sent there (as a proportion of the total being sent to the higher court) from 65% in 2005 to 73% in 2015. Either more either-way offences are being sent or fewer indictable-only offences. 22% of either-way offences get sent to the Crown Court – more than ever – which the MoJ attributes to the abolition of committal proceedings.

What of police officer numbers? They rose steadily to a peak of around 170,000 in 2010 but since then there has been a decline to a little over 151,000, a drop of more than 11%. The CPS too has seen its budget slashed. In 2008 the “resource department expenditure limit” was £682m, by 2016 it was just 482.

Of course, you can read statistics any way you like and the MoJ goes to some effort to put a particular spin on them. Crime is down, people are bing diverted from the CJS, custody is being avoided for more minor offences, longer custodial sentences are being imposed for the more serious offences. What’s not to like? You can also see the statistics being used to ready everyone for future policy: those pesky magistrates are sending too many either-way offences to the Crown Court. Why not increase their powers so they can hang on to them?

Others would read the statistics differently. Total crime is way higher than police recorded crime and that figure is much higher than the number of cases coming before the court. Perhaps, as a result of falling police and CPS resources, fewer cases are coming before the courts. This may be a good thing – many argued that too many “new entrants”, particularly youths, were criminalised during the Blair years. At the same time, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that cases are not coming before the courts because those charged with the responsibility of investigating and prosecuting crime have had their budgets slashed since the crash. The pendulum will swing – it always does.

Camilla Rents

Camilla Rents

Camilla has specialised in criminal defence work since 2010 and has particular experience in cases involving sexual offences, serious violent offences (including murder) and money laundering and fraud.

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