Data Insight: The nature, extent and outcomes of serious and organised crime cases prosecuted in England and Wales

This Data Insight examines serious organised crime cases appearing before the Crown Court in England and Wales between 2013 and 2020. It was developed as part of the inaugural Data First Research Fellowship using de-identified, research-ready datasets made available through the Data First programme: a groundbreaking data-linkage initiative, led by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and funded by ADR UK, to link and enable access to administrative data from across the justice system for research purposes.

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Developing a better understanding of the threat posed by those involved in serious and organised crime (SOC) is one of the priority areas identified for research to support the effective implementation of HM Government’s 2018 serious and organised crime strategy.

The study used de-identified, defendant-level records from the Crown Court case management system (XHIBIT) in order to estimate (i) the prevalence and incidence of SOC appearing before the higher courts in England and Wales between 2013 and 2020, and (ii) describe the characteristics of the defendants charged with these offences, and (iii) their associated outcomes. Using a comparative design, the study assesses: the severity and geographic distribution of offending associated with SOC and other (non-SOC) appearances; the extent to which cases were discontinued, dismissed or resulted in an acquittal (and the factors most predictive of this outcome); and the rate and frequency of re-appearances before the criminal courts over time.

Why it matters

Emerging findings from the project provide new insights into the nature and extent of SOC-related defendants and cases appearing before the Crown Court in England and Wales, and the court outcomes associated with them. This evidence contributes towards informing a key Ministry of Justice (MoJ) priority: the effective and efficient delivery of justice and promoting confidence in the justice system and the rule of law.

The project is also relevant to a key area of research interest for the MoJ, as it speaks to a potential driver of future demand on the justice system and offers insights into how the courts might better respond to SOC offending.

The work is also aligned to the strategic objectives of other criminal justice agencies; for example, recent strategic assessments by the National Crime Agency highlight the need to better understand the nature and extent of the threat posed by SOC to the UK’s communities, economy and institutions.

The lack of consensus around a definition of SOC can limit our understanding of the problem and stifle attempts to develop and invest in effective responses. Going forward, the data owners, in consultation with other relevant stakeholders like the Home Office, may wish to consider the feasibility of developing and testing a dedicated SOC flag or marker for use within the criminal courts’ datasets.

It seems likely that demand for other markers or flags (e.g. linked to identifying involvement in ‘gangs’, ‘county lines’, and joint enterprise offences) may also emerge from this work. The various Data First resources would seem to offer a valuable and unique test bed for trialing, adapting, and developing such activity.

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