Crime and punishment: how 14 years of Conservative government have changed Britain |  conservatives

Crime and punishment: how 14 years of Conservative government have changed Britain | conservatives

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” goes the old legal maxim, which has reflected the state of the justice system in England and Wales in recent years.

The delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic are just one of the ways the justice and police system has changed over the past 14 years: from cuts in legal and police aid to a more positive story about crime levels, a lot has changed since 2010. .

The Guardian will spend the next six weeks analyzing data on how 14 years of Conservative Party rule have changed Britain. In this first installment, we look at how crime and punishment have fared since 2010.

A record delay in court

In recent years, thanks in part to lockdowns during the pandemic, the justice system in England and Wales has seen record declines in case timeliness. The proportion of cases taking more than a year at the Crown Court rose from 7.2% to 28.3% between April and June last year.

Jury trials delayed: chart showing increase from 2020

Although the backlog at the magistrates’ court has decreased since mid-2020, the Crown Court now has a record number of pending cases. More of these cases require a jury trial, which the Institute for Government think tank estimates increases the delay by 40%.

This has a knock-on impact, as victims are more likely to forget details or withdraw from cases, and the number of people in prison increases despite not yet being convicted.

A collapse in rape charge rates before a small recent recovery

Longer waiting times and changes in information disclosure over the past decade (with more trials based on evidence from victims’ mobile phones) have led to a growing number of rape cases being dropped due to that the victims withdraw from the process.

Rape charge rate chart showing a sharp decline since 2014, a plateau around 2018, and then a small, steady increase in recent years.

The number of charges decreased between 2015-16 and 2019-20, even as the number of reported cases increased. Between April and June 2014, 27% of rape cases ended with a victim choosing not to continue. This figure more than doubled to a high of 59% in July-September 2022, a statistic that was likely due, in part, to court delays due to Covid-19.

In recent years, the rate of rape charges has begun to recover: the raw number charged in the latest quarter is the highest since December 2015 (although a doubling of the number of cases means the percentage remains much lower).

Big cuts to legal aid

Ahead of the 2010 election, both major parties promised to review or find savings in legal aid (the system created in 1945 to “provide legal advice to those of limited means and resources, so that no one is financially unable to prosecute A fair person”). and reasonably claim or defend a legal right.”

In the end, the coalition government decided to cut it: spending fell by 38% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

The results: an increasing number of unrepresented defendants, threatening the timeliness of court cases, and insufficient legal aid providers in many areas of law, with cuts disproportionately affecting vulnerable women.

A prison system in trouble

Last year, eyes were once again on the prison system in England and Wales after a dramatic prisoner escape at HMP Wandsworth. But figures show that prison conditions – including overcrowding – have been a problem since at least 2010, and the system is struggling to retain staff.

Chart showing the decrease in the number of experienced prison staff and the increase in the number of newly hired staff since 2010

The number of “certified normal accommodation” places (those that have a good and decent level of accommodation, that is, they are not overcrowded) was already insufficient for the prison population, and the supply has only increased by 2% since June 2010, while the prison population has increased by almost 3% to 87,481. The Ministry of Justice’s biggest demographic projections suggest it could reach more than 100,000 within two years.

Staff retention is a big problem. Nearly half of the officers (47%) who left the service last year had been on the job for less than three years.

A decade of cuts to frontline police

The Conservative government broadly delivered on its 2019 manifesto commitment to hire 20,000 more police officers in England and Wales by March 2023, increasing the officer workforce by 18,320 since March 2020.

Graph showing the change in the number of police officers since 2003

However, when put into a broader context, that success seems quite small: the March 2023 figure represents an increase of just 2.6% on 2010, and across the UK, the figures are still slightly lower (policing is a matter devolved to Scotland). and Northern Ireland).

Figures reveal officer numbers fell each year the Conservatives were in power until 2018, when it slowly began to rise again.

A mixed story about knife crime

Police forces have vastly improved recording practices over the past 14 years, making it difficult to compare crime statistics recorded over the period. However, in England, NHS figures on knife crime date back to 2013.

Chart showing knife-related hospitalizations in England and their decrease since 2019

The figures show a rising rate of hospitalizations for stab wounds until the pandemic, when the figure began to fall again, possibly helped by increasing numbers of officers. Since 2012, each police force has elected its own police and crime commissioner (these roles are performed by local mayors in some areas), who have political oversight of the local force.

But a positive story about front-page crime

While the justice system is under immense strain, the overall crime story has remained positive.

The ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales is considered the best way to measure changes in crime over time (due to the aforementioned improvements in police figures making it appear that crime has increased). It shows that the level of crime is falling.

Graph showing the downward trend in crime rates since 1997

In the Labor Party, estimates of major traditional crimes fell by 44%: from 17,168 in December 1997 to 9,544 in March 2010. Since then, traditional crimes have more than halved, to 4,340 in December 2010. last year. The new problem is fraud and cybercrime, but these have also decreased by 25% since they were first measured in 2017.