The number of offenders being punished for their crimes is at the lowest level in nearly 50 years, figures suggest.

The number of criminals sent straight to jail when they are sentenced (75,800) is also at its lowest level for a decade, falling to 6.5%.

Prosecutions and out-of-court disposals like community resolutions, cautions or penalty notices in England and Wales fell 2% in the last year and numbers are at their lowest since records began in 1970.

There were 1.58 million people formally dealt with by the criminal justice between July 2018 to June 2019 compared with 1.86 million in 1970, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data.

Individuals dealt with by the criminal justice system.
(PA Graphics)

Some 1.37 million defendants were prosecuted in the last year, with the number facing magistrates’ court down 2% and continuing to fall since 2016.

But the average length of a prison sentence rose to 17.4 months, the highest in the last 10 years, having steadily risen since June 2009 when it was 13.5 months, the figures show.

The number of suspects on bail after being questioned by police also fell by 10% since June last year.

Meanwhile, police recorded crime rose overall by 6% to 5.3 million offences excluding some fraud crimes.

Researchers believe this rise is linked to better recording of crimes among police forces and victims being more willing to come forward.

There was a 10% drop in the number of penalty notices handed out for disorder, falling to 20,500.

Being drunk and disorderly, harassment and causing alarm or distress, theft of items costing under £100, and possession of cannabis were the offences accounting for 91% of all the notices issued.

There was a 14% decrease in the number of cautions handed out (64,900).

Some 78% of the cautions issued for serious offences were for drugs, theft and violence.

Lawyers warned that the figures show the extent to which the public are being let down by the justice system and called on the next government to commit to investment.

Richard Atkins QC, chairman of the Bar Council, described the figures as a “major concern”, adding: “The inescapable fact is that the disproportionate cuts to the criminal justice budget over many years has broken the system.

“Only a considerable investment in the criminal justice system by the next government will reverse the damage and restore public confidence.”

Caroline Goodwin QC, chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “Protecting the public from harm is a basic, core duty any government has to the public and, quite rightly, the public expect that duty to be fulfilled.

“Talk by politicians about being ‘tough on law and order’ remains just that until substantial investment is made all the way through the system – not just in the police, but the CPS, criminal legal aid defence, courts and parole service so reported offences are properly investigated, then charged, prosecuted and brought to trial in a timely manner.

“Anything less won’t do. The public cannot be short-changed.”

Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “Victims of crime, as well as those accused of offences, need to have confidence that the criminal justice system is capable of delivering justice. But it is a system at breaking point.

“We rely upon the criminal justice system to ensure our rights are protected and the rule of law is upheld.

“Instead, crime is falling through the cracks of investigation and prosecution.”