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Crime in the United Kingdom

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Subject: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Sexual offences in the United Kingdom, Broken Britain, Gun crime in south Manchester, Rape in English law
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Crime in the United Kingdom

Crime in the United Kingdom describes acts of violent 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]

Consistent with EU trends,[4] the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2014/2015 figures[5] show that crime in the UK is currently at its lowest level since the CSEW began in 1981, having decreased dramatically from its peak in 1995 and by 27% in the past five years alone. For example, 1.32 million violent crimes were counted in 2014/2015 compared to 4.2 million in 1994/95.

By contrast, official police crime statistics in the United Kingdom 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, one third of violent crimes, and 37% of rapes.[6][7][8]

England and Wales

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 a Crown Court trial by jury.

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).[9]


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.[10] The highest criminal court in Scotland is the High Court of Justiciary.

Northern Ireland

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.

Extent of crime

As with crime statistics elsewhere, there are two main sources of data on crime: victim studies and police reports.

Police report numbers must be taken with a caution that they are only the recorded numbers, not the reported numbers or actual number of occurrences. Crime statistics in the United Kingdom 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, one third of violent crimes, and 37% of rapes.[6][11][8] Further, this varies significantly by area: in the year to March 2011, 2% of reported rapes in Gloucestershire were recorded as "no crime", while 30% of reported rapes in Kent were so classified.[12] Thus the numbers cannot be used for accurate comparison, either in whole or in part (by region or by type of crime), without correcting for these significant discrepancies.

In England and Wales, there were 880,000 recorded "violence against the person" crimes in 2008–9, equivalent to 16 per thousand people. There were about 50,000 sexual offences during the same period, just under 1 per thousand. Other areas of crime included robbery (80,000; equivalent to around 1.5 crimes/per thousand), burglary (285,000; 5 per thousand) and vehicle theft (150,000; 3 per thousand).[13] England and Wales has a prison population of over 80,000 (2007 estimate), equivalent to 149 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).[14]

In 2007–8, there were 114 homicide victims in Scotland,[15] a slight decrease 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,[15] equating to 142 people per 100,000 population, very similar to England and Wales.[14]

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.[16] 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.[14]

Real crime stories

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.[17] 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".[18]

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."[19] 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




  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Victims let down by poor crime-recording
  7. ^ Crime Recording: Making the Victim Count
  8. ^ a b Whistleblowers' diary: 'no criming' the stats
  9. ^
  10. ^ Part III of the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007
  11. ^ Crime Recording: Making the Victim Count
  12. ^ Rape crime figure differences revealed
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^
  19. ^

External links

  • Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, a well-respected academic research centre focusing on crime and justice issues
  • United Kingdom Black Markets Crime statistics on various illicit activities in the United Kingdom
  • Historic Databases
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