Total crimes committed

'Explain why estimates place the number of secured convictions at around 2% of total crimes committed' A conviction is gained when a person or persons are proved to be guilty of committing the crime with which they are charged, these range from 'white collar' crimes such as theft and burglary to those at the opposing end of the spectrum such as rape and homicide. The conviction is the eventual outcome of a successful and efficient criminal justice system.

There are several processes that must ensue in order to arrive at this ultimate outcome. Initially, the police are involved in some capacity, either by way of arrest or complaint. The police then take statements and decide (in convergence with the victim or victims) whether or not to proceed with criminal charges being brought against the accused. If the decision is made to press charges, written and taped statements are taken by the police and all other information about the incident is passed over to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

From here the CPS begin sifting through the evidence that has been presented to them by the police on behalf of the victim, eventually the CPS make a decision whether to commence a prosecution or to terminate the case (largely based on the Evidential Sufficiency and Public Interest tests). This decision is made on likelihood of gaining a conviction in a court of law, be it the Crown or Magistrates court. So far I have pointed out that even before a trial, many decisions are made to ensure a conviction.

This brings into question why the official statistics for conviction are so low. A possible answer to this is that some government figures for 'conviction' apply solely to convictions that consequently result in a jail term, however many hearings take place in the magistrates court for petty crimes such as vehicle tax crime, parking ticket payment and criminal damage. The majority of crimes such as these merely require payment to the court of the financial damages that have been inflicted.

Having visited the Cardiff Magistrates, I have seen first hand that the 'turnover' of cases is extremely high, in a morning session the court can hear twenty of these 'petty' cases and most are uncontested by their defendants. According a CPS prosecutor, '80-90% of such hearings in the magistrates court culminate in favour of the crown' (Soffa, 2002). If this is the case, why are conviction rates so low? Nowadays with an increase in serious crime, spaces to put offenders in jail are at a premium.

This therefore means that offenders for crimes at the lower end of the scale are less likely to receive a jail term at all, by way of a suspended sentence with the alternatives including community service and payment in damages, costs and fines. As a result, commentators criticise the legal system as being influenced by economics and politics when they are supposed to be completely independent from any outside influence. It is the general consensus that if offenders are guilty of crimes they should be sent to jail, but where can they be put if there are no jail spaces available?

The judiciary is accused of reserving jail space for the more persistent and serious of offenders, and therefore being influenced. The compilation and subsequent publication of criminal statistics brings the legitimacy of the '2%' statistic in serious doubt. They involve the bringing together of information from many separate and independent agencies that can provide detailed information about crime, this suggests that the final statistics can not be wholly accurate.

Many agencies such as the British Transport Police, Customs and Excise, Department of Social Security and the Inland Revenue also record offences which may not be included in the listings given, these offences range from public health offences to trading standards infringements. The majority of these summary offences are only available for numbers of convictions and so therefore do not take into account the amount of the cases tried hence not being able to submit a percentage of convictions that were drawn from the ones tried.

Furthermore, many potential offences may not be defined as criminal. Some types of offences are therefore much less likely to come to the attention of the police where there would be a high rate of conviction. Such offences are ones where victims are completely unaware that they have been a victim of crime, here fraud is a prime example because it depends on the victims noticing if they have been defrauded, similarly to crimes such as the detection of businesses that fail to comply with health and safety regulations.

Crimes which have no noticeable victim are also 'invisible' crimes, these include prostitution, illegal gambling, pornography and illegal drugs use which would again bring about a large conviction turnover. Finally, there are ofcourse offences that go unnoticed by the police, commonly known as 'private' offences such as sexual offences, drug misuse and domestic violence-again crimes such as these also have a high rate of conviction due to the fact that they are so serious the CPS would not prosecute if there was not sufficient evidence and it was in the public interest to convict.

There is a difference between actual criminal incidents and those that are reported, hence we must assume that the number of crimes is larger than those that are investigated by the police. Of the 100% of crimes committed, 47% are reported, 27% are recorded, 4. 9% are 'cleared up', and 2. 7% are either cautioned or convicted with only 2% resulting in an outright conviction (Croall, 1998). According to government statistics, there was a steady increase in recorded crime from 1950 to 1997, with a total of 5. 5 million recorded in 1992 compared to only 0.

5 million crimes in 1950 (Criminal Statistics for England and Wales, 1997). The population has itself grown, which could accommodate blame for a small proportion of the rise but certainly not the majority. These are the two foremost issues that must be dealt with. Initially, the figures that are produced suggest that the reason for the 2% conviction rate is due to the large amount of unreported cases which amount to approximately 53% of all offences committed. Of the 43% of offences that are reported most only around 27% are recorded leaving 20% unrecorded.

It is easy to see a correlation appearing, a process of 'watering down' the statistics is being used by taking away elements of the legal system (such as cautions and 'clearing up') from totals of the offences that are committed. This is a probable cause for why there is 'only' a 2% conviction rate. This rate is an average among all types of crime, but it must be pointed out that the majority of that 2% are serious crimes such as wounding, rape and homicide and are not such like domestic burglary and vandalism (Barclay, 1995).

There are many reasons that I have given for the relatively low rate of conviction, but as I have shown the whole picture is not entirely shown by these figures. The 'watering down' of the figures is a method that has given this perception. '… Maguire points out, a longstanding criticism of official statistics is that they cannot indicate changing patterns of crime – there may for example be changes in the kinds of typical thefts or robberies which are not reflected in broad classifications.