20:14, August 16 42 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-16 20:14:06
England and Wales see fewest prosecutions since records began

The number of prosecutions in England and Wales has reached a record low despite an increase in recorded crime overall, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

The data showed 1.61 million people were either prosecuted or given an “out-of-court disposal” in the year ending March 2018, a fall of 7% and the lowest number since records began in 1970.

Out-of-court disposals are sanctions given by police on admission of guilt, and include cautions, cannabis warnings, fixed penalty fines and restorative justice.

A decrease in prosecutions for motoring offences resulted in the number of people prosecuted at magistrates courts falling by 5% to 1.38 million compared with 1.45 million the previous year, the Criminal Justice Statistics published on Thursday reveal.

The report also shows there has been an 11% increase in overall crime, a total of 5.5m offences, although not all offences recorded result in a charge or prosecution.

The MoJ put the rise down to “improved recording among police forces and victims’ greater willingness to report crimes”.

The fall in prosecutions comes amid a rise in violent crime, with the latest annual police figures published in April showing a 22% year-on-year increase in knife crime and an 11% rise in gun crime.

The figures for 2017 from the Office for National Statistics showed police forces recorded 39,598 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in the year to December 2017, the highest number registered since comparable records started in 2010.

In May, Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick said she was “sure” cuts to her force’s budget have contributed to a rise in violent crime.

Responding to the latest figures on prosecutions, an MoJ spokeswoman said: “Under this government the most serious offenders are more likely to go to prison, and for longer – helping protect the public and keep communities safe.

“Sentencing is a matter for independent courts, who take into account the circumstances of each case.”

Decisions on whether to prosecute suspects are taken by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

In 2017/18 the CPS prosecuted 533,161 cases and secured 448,327 convictions. In magistrates courts, its conviction rate was 84.8% while the rate for crown courts was 79.9%.

A CPS spokeswoman said: “We will always prosecute cases referred to us by the police where there is enough evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest.

“Last year the CPS prosecuted more than 530,000 cases, with a conviction rate of 84%. Although the number of cases has decreased, there has been an increase in the complexity of the cases we prosecute.

“This is reflected in the growth in digital evidence and, in the case of sexual offences, reliance on vulnerable victims and witnesses.”

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