THE number of people being prosecuted or handed out-of-court disposals is at its lowest since records began, while more offences are being reported to police, official figures show.

There were 1.59 million people formally dealt with by the criminal justice system in England and Wales between April 2018 and March 2019, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

In its quarterly bulletin the department said the number fell two percent in the latest year.

The number of people prosecuted at all courts fell by one percent overall although the amount of defendants brought before magistrates' courts remained broadly the same as the previous year, according to the figures.

But the number of people taken to court for indictable offences - serious crimes dealt with by a crown court - dropped by eight percent, which is similar to the fall in the number of offences being charged by police.

The news prompted criticism from lawyers, with Chris Henley, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, telling PA the figures suggest it was "as if the police have been given a couple of lawnmowers to keep Hyde Park in shape".

Richard Atkins QC, chairman of Bar Council, told PA: "Criminals up and down the country will be rubbing their hands with glee knowing that even if their crimes are detected and they are caught by the police, the chances of them being prosecuted or jailed are slim."

The figures were published days after Boris Johnson announced an "urgent review" of sentencing laws in a bid to see violent and sexual offenders locked up for longer.

The Prime Minister has also vowed to create 10,000 more prison places, hire 20,000 more police officers and give an extra £85 million to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to deal with its caseload.

The number of overall prosecutions and convictions fell, particularly for more serious crimes dealt with by crown courts. Custody rates also dropped.

Fewer out-of-court disposals were used, with a 22,300 (nine percent) drop to 215,000, continuing a "steady decline" over the past 10 years.

Only the use of community resolutions increased, by three percent to 105,600.

The number of crimes recorded by police rose by eight percent to 5.3 million excluding some fraud cases. The MoJ believes this is down to better recording of crime by police forces and victims being more willing to come forward.

The CPS said that over the last year fewer cases had been referred for charging decisions.

A spokesman added: "Our work is demand-led, we do not investigate crime, or choose which cases to consider.

"CPS prosecutors review every case referred to us by the police or other law enforcement agencies. If our test to bring a prosecution is met we will not hesitate to prosecute."

The proportion of career criminals being convicted rose.

Prison sentences are the longest in a decade, rising to an average of 17.2 months, the statistics said.

But the number of people on police bail fell by 16 percent.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We are doing more to restore public confidence in the justice system, investing in police and prison places and reviewing sentencing to make sure violent and sexual offenders are properly punished."

Around two-thirds of prosecutions are brought to court by authorities other than police, such as councils or the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.