Crime in the United Kingdom

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Crime in the United Kingdom describes acts of violent crime and non-violent crime that take place within the United Kingdom. Courts and police systems are separated into three sections, based on the different judicial systems of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Responsibility for crime in England and Wales is split between the Home Office, the government department responsible for reducing and preventing crime,[1] along with law enforcement in the United Kingdom; and the Ministry of Justice, which runs the Justice system, including its courts and prisons.[2] In Scotland, this responsibility falls on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which acts as the sole public prosecutor in Scotland, and is therefore responsible for the prosecution of crime in Scotland.[3]


In its history, the United Kingdom has had a relatively normal relationship with crime. The United Kingdom’s crime rate remains relatively low when compared to the rest of the world, especially among first world countries. As of 2019, the United Kingdom sits in 174th place for intentional homicide victims per 100,000 inhabitants at 1.20 behind notable first world countries like Canada, who sit 158th at 1.68, and the United States who sit at 90th with 5.35.[4] While the United Kingdom remains a relatively peaceful country, as of January 2018 police figures have shown a sharp increase in violent crime and sex offences rates over the last few years.[5]

England and Wales[edit]

Crime in England and Wales from the Crime Survey (in 000s of crimes).[6]

The Crime Survey for England and Wales 2015 figures show that crime in England and Wales is currently at its lowest level since the CSEW began in 1981, having decreased dramatically from its peak in 1995 and by 31% in the past five years alone.[7] For example, 1.32 million violent crimes were counted in 2014/2015 compared to 4.2 million in 1994/95. By contrast, official police statistics are unreliable, due to widespread and inconsistent practices of "no criming", with 19% of reported overall crimes not recorded by police, one quarter of sexual crimes and one third of violent crimes.[8][9][10]

There are two kinds of criminal trial in England and Wales: 'summary' and 'on indictment'. For an adult, summary trials take place in a magistrates' court, while trials on indictment take place in the Crown Court. Despite the possibility of two venues for trial, almost all criminal cases, however serious, commence in the magistrates' courts. Offences may also be deemed 'either way', depending on the seriousness of the individual offence. This means they may be tried in either the Magistrates or Crown Court depending on the circumstances. A person may even be convicted by the Magistrates court and sent to the Crown for sentence (where the magistrates feel they do not have adequate sentencing powers). Further more, even if the Magistrates retain the jurisdiction of an offence, the defendant has the right to elect for a Crown Court trial by jury. The jury is selected independently of the prosecution and the defence.

Rural crime has increased in England and Wales, criminals have become more organized and more sophisticated while budget cuts have reduced the effectiveness of police response. Expensive agricultural equipment is stolen and taken out of the country or used in ram raids, also livestock is stolen. It is suspected stolen livestock is slaughtered illegally outside licensed slaughterhouses and then illegally enters the food chain.[11]

Crime in London was the highest in England and Wales in 2009 (111 per 1000 of the population), followed by Greater Manchester (101 per 1000).[12]


The Sheriff Court is the main criminal court; this sits locally. The procedure followed may either be solemn, where the Sheriff sits with a jury of 15; or summary, where the Sheriff sits alone. From 10 December 2007, the maximum penalty that may be imposed in summary cases is 12 months' imprisonment or a £10,000 fine, in solemn cases 5 years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine.[13] The highest criminal court in Scotland is the High Court of Justiciary. If a crime is deemed to be more severe than normal, the process changes. Juries composed of members of the public chosen randomly are formed to decide on the guilt of the accused. It is the job of The Crown, who in this case is the prosecutor, to prove that the defendant is guilty. A defendant is innocent until proven guilty, much like in the United States. In order to prove guilt, the jury must return a majority verdict. Overall you can see how different the Scotland legal system is from others in the United Kingdom.[14]

Report published by Scotland’s Chief Statistician states that violent crimes recorded in Scotland increased by 10%, plus 16% rise in robberies and sexual crimes, including rape, saw an 8% increase in 2019.[15]

Northern Ireland[edit]

In Northern Ireland, magistrates' courts hear less-serious criminal cases and conduct preliminary hearings in more serious criminal cases. The Crown Court in Northern Ireland hears more serious criminal cases. These are indictable offences and "either way" offences which are committed for trial in the Crown Court rather than the magistrates' courts. Northern Ireland has its own judicial system. The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland is the entity that sits at the head of this system.[16] The Department of Justice is the department responsible for the administration of the courts, which it runs through the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.  On top of this, the Department also has responsibility for policy and legislation about criminal law, legal aid policy, the police, prisons and probation.[17] Similar to the justice system in the United States, defendants are innocent until proven guilty and on top of this in order to be proven guilty evidence must lead the judge or jury to make a decision based on the fact that it was “beyond reasonable doubt”.[18]

Extent of crime[edit]

In England and Wales, there were 618,000 recorded "violence against the person" crimes which caused an injury in 2015. Other areas of crime included robbery (124,000), burglary (713,000) and vehicle theft (874,000).[7] England and Wales had a prison population of 83 430 (2018 estimate), equivalent to 179 people per 100 000. This is considerably less than the USA (762) but more than the Republic of Ireland (76). and a little more than the EU average (123).[19] The homicide rate in the UK was 1.2 per 100,000 in 2016[20][circular reference] the highest rate in Western Europe outside of Belgium and France. The homicide rate in England and Wales increased 39% from the 38 year low of 0.89 per 100,000 in 2015 to a decade high of 1.23 per 100,000 in 2018.

In 2018–9, there were 60 homicide victims in Scotland,[21] a slight increase on the previous year. In the third quarter of 2009, there were a little over 17,000 full time equivalent serving police officers. There were around 375,000 crimes in 2008–9, a fall of 2% on the previous year. These included around 12,500 non-sexual violent acts, 168,000 crimes of dishonesty (housebreaking, theft and shoplifting are included in this category) and 110,000 acts of fire-raising and vandalism. In the 2008–9 period, there was a prison population in Scotland of about 7,300,[21] equating to 142 people per 100,000 population, very similar to England and Wales.[22]

Between April 2008 and 2009, there were just over 110,000 crimes recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, an increase of 1.5% on the previous year.[23] Northern Ireland has around 7,500 serving full-time equivalent police positions, and a prison population of 1,500, 83 per 100,000 of the population, lower than the rest of the United Kingdom.[22]

Recorded crime rose 11% in the year to March 2018 while sexual offenses rose 24%, 5% of sex offenses and 3% of rape cases lead to a charge or summons. Crime detection rates are falling from 15% in 2015 to 9% recently. 75% of theft cases and 57% of robberies including muggings were closed without a suspect identified. Homicides rose 12% during the year to March 2018. Reduction in the numbers of police officers could be a factor.[24] Police officer numbers fell to 122,404 in England and Wales, the lowest since comparable records began in 1996.[25]

The yearly frequency of knife crime offences almost doubled, from 23,945 to 43,516, in the six years to 2018/19.[26][27] Over 1,000 school students were caught with possession of knives in 2018, and the youngest of them aged four. The police confiscated weapons, including machetes, hunting knives, samurai sword, along with a highlighter pen having a blade nib. Figures by Freedom of Information laws recorded 1,144 cases of knife confiscations in schools across England, Scotland and Wales during the same year.[28] Darius Hemmatpour, police superintendant at Scotland Yard blames austerity for the rise in crime. Hemmatpour said, “Public sector services were cut. There comes a point that services previously available were no longer there. People on the edge of criminality may have previously had an intervention that may have diverted them away, but with the loss of those services, that intervention was not there. If you take 20,000 police officers off the streets of England and Wales, because of austerity, that creates a void.”[29]

In late 2018 and early 2019 over 1,000 children were found to have taken weapons to school, weapons included knives, blades, knuckledusters and a Taser stun gun. Incidents involving blades included pen knives, craft knives and garden shears. There were 1072 incidents, a rise from 831 in the same areas in 2017 - 2018 (statistics do not include the Metropolitan Police area in London). There were 311 incidents from April to August 2019. Mr Barton of the ASCL Head Teachers Union said, "The scourge of weapons has grown worse in recent years, and while there are a number of complex factors involved, a key issue has been cuts in policing and local support services for vulnerable families. Gangs have filled this vacuum and often pressure and groom young people into dealing drugs and carrying weapons."[30] During the year to September 2019 there were 14,135 offences involving carrying knives, the highest figure since 2007 when figures were first compiled. There were nearly 22,300 offenses involving carrying weapons generally. Javed Khan of Barnardo's said, "We need to tackle the root causes and understand why those involved carry knives. (...) The new government urgently needs to work with charities, education, health, youth workers, the criminal justice system and local communities to find long-term solutions, so vulnerable children have a reason to turn away from crime."[31]

Real crime stories[edit]

In Early Modern Britain, real crime stories were a popular form of entertainment. These stories were written about in pamphlets, broadsides, and chapbooks, such as The Newgate Calendar. These real crime stories were the subject of popular gossip and discussion of the day. While only a few people may have been able to attend a trial or an execution, these stories allowed for the entertainment of such events to be extended to a much greater population.[32] These crime stories depicted the gruesome details of criminal acts, trials and executions with the intent to "articulate a particular set of values, inculcate a certain behavioral model and bolster a social order perceived as threatened".[33]

The publication of these stories was done in order for the larger population to learn from the mistakes of their fellow Englishmen. They stressed the idea of learning from others wrongdoings to the extent that they would place warnings within the epitaphs of executed criminals. For example, in the epitaph of John Smith, a highway thief and murderer, said, "thereto remain, a Terrour to affright All wicked Men that do in Sins delight...this is the Reason, and the Cause that they May Warning take."[34] The epitaph ends with the Latin phrase "Faelix quem faciunt aliena pericula cantum” which means “fortunate the man who learns caution from the perils of others."

See also[edit]




  1. ^ "Crime and Victims". The Home Office. Archived from the original on 22 December 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  2. ^ "About Us". Ministry for Justice. 2009. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  3. ^ "Guide to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service". Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  4. ^ "Intentional homicide victims | Statistics and Data". Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Violent crime rising, police figures suggest". 25 January 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Crime in England and Wales: year ending Dec 2016".
  7. ^ a b "Bulletin Tables - Crime in England and Wales, Year Ending December 2015". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  8. ^ "Victims let down by poor crime-recording".
  9. ^ "Crime-recording: making the victim count".
  10. ^ "Whistleblowers' diary: 'no criming' the stats - The Justice Gap". 18 November 2014.
  11. ^ Farmers using medieval methods to combat rural crime The Guardian
  12. ^ Simon Rogers (22 April 2010). "Crime rates where you live". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
  13. ^ Part III of the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007
  14. ^ Retrieved 19 April 2019. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ "Recorded sex crime in Scotland rises to highest level for 48 years". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  16. ^ "Introduction to the justice system". nidirect. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Introduction to the justice system". nidirect. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  18. ^ "Introduction to the justice system". nidirect. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  19. ^ "UK Prison population statistics". House of Commons Library. 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  20. ^ List of countries by intentional homicide rate#By country
  21. ^ a b The Scottish Government (29 October 2019). "Homicide in Scotland 2018-2019: statistics". Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  22. ^ a b "Annual Abstract of Statistics". National Office of Statistics. 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  23. ^ "The PSNI's Statistical Report" (PDF). Police Service of Northern Ireland. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  24. ^ No-one charged in 9 out of 10 crimes - Home Office BBC
  25. ^ Long-term fall in crime is over as statistics show spike in robbery and murder The Independent
  26. ^ "Man in 60s stabbed to death in broad daylight outside west London pub". Telegraph Media Group Limited. 25 August 2019.
  27. ^ "Crime in England & Wales, year ending June 2018 - PFA tables". unknown. Retrieved 23 August 2019. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  28. ^ "Knife Crimes Worsen with School Kids Caught Possessing Knives and Blades". Mirror Herald. 23 August 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  29. ^ Senior officer suggests austerity fuelled surge in violent crime The Guardian
  30. ^ Child, four, among pupils taking weapons to school BBC
  31. ^ Knife possession offences in England and Wales reach record high BBC
  32. ^ Sharpe, J. A. (1 May 1985). ""last Dying Speeches": Religion, Ideology and Public Execution in Seventeenth-Century England"". Past and Present. 107 (1): 144–167. doi:10.1093/past/107.1.144.
  33. ^ Sharpe, J. A. (1 May 1985). ""last Dying Speeches": Religion, Ideology and Public Execution in Seventeenth-Century England"". Past and Present. 107 (1): 144–167. doi:10.1093/past/107.1.144.
  34. ^ "An epitaph on Mr. John Smith, alias Ashburnham".

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