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 2 per cent in the latest year.

The number of people prosecuted at all courts fell by 1 per cent overall although the amount of defendants brought before magistrates’ courts remained broadly the same as the previous year, according to the figures.

At Winchester, two of the major courts, two and four, have been unused in recent weeks.

The number of people taken to court for indictable offences - serious crimes dealt with by a crown court - dropped by 8 per cent, 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, saying 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, said: “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.”

Vice president of the Law Society of England and Wales David Greene said the figures came as “no surprise” because the criminal justice system is “at breaking point” and “simply doesn’t have the resources to function effectively”.

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said the figures were disappointing and seem to be part of a “wider and worrying trend”.

She said it was the state’s first duty to protect people and this was not happening, adding: “More victims are coming forward and report crime and yet the number of prosecutions is falling.

“It is so important victims have faith in our criminal justice system.”

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

A spokesman added: “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.”