12:13, November 14 207 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-14 12:13:04
'Major concern': offenders in criminal justice system hit 50-year low

The number of offenders passing through the criminal justice system in England and Wales has hit its lowest level in nearly 50 years, official figures have shown.

There were 1.58 million people formally dealt with by the criminal justice system between July 2018 and June 2019 compared with 1.86 million in 1970, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data.

The number of those convicted of criminal offences who are sent straight to jail when they are sentenced – 75,800 – is also at its lowest level for a decade, falling to 6.5%.

Meanwhile, prosecutions and out-of-court disposals such as community resolutions, cautions or penalty notices in England and Wales fell 2% in the past year and numbers are at their lowest since records began in 1970.

Boris Johnson’s government is proposing a hard-line approach to crime with plans to build more prison cells and increase sentences for some offenders. Critics have argued that the proposals go against a wealth of evidence that supports a more rehabilitative-focused approach.

About 1.37 million defendants were prosecuted in the past year, with the number facing magistrates court down 2% and continuing to fall since 2016. The average length of a prison sentence rose to 17.4 months, the highest in the past 10 years, having steadily climbed since June 2009 when it was 13.5 months, the MoJ figures show.


The number of suspects on bail after being questioned by police also fell by 10% since June last year.

Meanwhile, police recorded crime rose overall by 6% to 5.3m offences excluding some fraud crimes. Researchers believe this rise is linked to better recording of crimes among police forces and victims being more willing to come forward.

There was a 10% drop in the number of penalty notices handed out for disorder, falling to 20,500.

Being drunk and disorderly, harassment and causing alarm or distress, theft of items costing under £100, and possession of cannabis were the offences accounting for 91% of all the notices issued.

There was a 14% decrease in the number of cautions handed out, down to 64,900. About 78% of the cautions issued for serious offences were for drugs, theft and violence.

Lawyers said the figures showed the extent to which the public were being let down by the justice system and called on the next government to commit to investment.

Richard Atkins QC, the chair of the Bar Council, described the figures as a “major concern”, adding: “The inescapable fact is that the disproportionate cuts to the criminal justice budget over many years has broken the system.

“Only a considerable investment in the criminal justice system by the next government will reverse the damage and restore public confidence.”

Caroline Goodwin QC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “Protecting the public from harm is a basic, core duty any government has to the public and, quite rightly, the public expect that duty to be fulfilled.

“Talk by politicians about being ‘tough on law and order’ remains just that until substantial investment is made all the way through the system – not just in the police, but the CPS, criminal legal aid defence, courts and parole service so reported offences are properly investigated, then charged, prosecuted and brought to trial in a timely manner.

“Anything less won’t do. The public cannot be short-changed.”