Policing and justice are semi-autonomous in England & Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, respectively. In England and Wales, the Home Office has the job of bringing crime down, while the police and the courts arrest and process offenders. In Scotland, a single department deals with all aspects of crime and violence. Northern Ireland has separate police and prosecution services.
The system ostensibly works. Crime and violence are their lowest in the UK since 1981, although they did peak again in 1991. However, these are not the actual figures. In England and Wales, one third of rapes and other violent crimes never becomes police matter. A quarter of sexual crimes never come to their attention either. In reality, one fifth of UK crime remains outside the official system.
The Three Regional Systems for Dealing with Crime and Violence
- England and Wales follow a two-tier process. Most hearings begin in a magistrate’s court. Ones that are more serious elevate to a crown court. In the former instance, the magistrate decides on guilt and sentence. However in a crown court the accused person may request trial by jury.
- A single local sheriff’s court tries crime and violence cases in Scotland. In the case of summary cases with lower penalties, the sheriff is the sole decision maker. A fifteen-person jury helps assess more serious cases at solemn hearings.
- Northern Ireland follows a similar process to England and Wales. There, magistrates hear minor cases, and hold preliminary hearings into more serious ones. The latter then proceed to a crown court for processing.
The Overall Effectiveness of the System
There should be no crime and violence in a perfect world, but this is not the case in the UK. In 2015, English police processed 618,000 complaints of violence. The statistics are similar in Scotland and Northern Ireland. London followed by Greater Manchester have the highest incidences of violent crime per head of population. Alas, this is a common trend in large cities around the world, not just Great Britain.