A growing proportion of offenders who are dealt with outside court are receiving informal community orders, amid concerns that serious crimes are going unpunished.

According to annual figures published by the Ministry of Justice today, nearly three quarters of out of court disposals consisted of community resolution orders in 2019, up from 56% in 2015. The raw number has stayed broadly the same. These orders are intended to deal with low level crimes where the offender admits wrongdoing. Resolutions can include the offender apologising, making reparations or being advised about their future behaviour. An order does not lead to a criminal record.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the trend was ‘disturbing’ and could indicate that community resolution orders are being issued when more serious action should be taken. Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the CBA, said: ‘Contrary to their original purpose and clear guidance given by police chiefs at the time, community resolutions are increasingly being used to dispose of more serious crime. We know that offences ranging from arson to violent crimes, burglary, drug trafficking and even some sexual assaults have been dealt with by community resolutions, which many may argue runs contrary to their original purpose.

‘Many of these more serious offences should be dealt with in a court room and yet the increased use of resolution orders comes when reported crimes remain stubbornly high, with some serious crimes involving weapons on the increase and yet police are having to grapple with years of cuts to their own resources.’

The overall number of out of court disposals has fallen by 25% over the past five years, while the number of criminal prosecutions has fallen by 19% since 2009. Meanwhile, the total number of individuals dealt with by the criminal justice system in England and Wales has been declining since 2015 and fell 1% last year to 1.52 million.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales predicted there were 5.8 million incidents of crime (excluding fraud and computer misuse) in 2019, down by 9% compared with the previous year. However, police records suggest criminal incidents rose by 4% in 2019 compared with 2018.