It's a crime
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
I could fill pages and pages with the problems facing the criminal justice system. Prisoners locked in their cells for 23 hours a day; a semi-functioning probation service being restructured in the midst of a pandemic; growing backlogs in the courts; overstretched police trying to enforce new Covid rules; knife crime at historically high levels. But there is one statistic that stands out above all others: out of every 100 offences recorded by police, just seven lead to someone being charged or having to appear in court.
The figure, for England and Wales and covering the 12 months to the end of March 2020, means that the vast bulk of crimes never come close to being solved - perpetrators are seldom caught, leaving them free to commit further offences and victims rarely get their day in court. For sexual offences, theft, arson and criminal damage charging levels are even lower than the average; in rape cases, just 1.4% end up in court. And it's no blip. Detection rates have been plummeting for five years: in 2014-15, when the data were first compiled this way, 15.5% of offences led to a charge.
A small proportion of crimes, around 5%, result in other action being taken, such as a caution, penalty notice for disorder or "community resolution". And there will inevitably always be offences for which a suspect can't be identified or where the evidence simply doesn't support a prosecution.
Nevertheless, the 7% figure, which has had shockingly little coverage since its publication by the Home Office in July, should concern us all. I'll be writing more about it in the weeks and months ahead.