What are the outcomes for ‘serious and organised’ crime cases that appear before the courts in England and Wales?

What are the outcomes for ‘serious and organised’ crime cases that appear before the courts in England and Wales?

Author: Professor Tim McSweeney (Anglia Ruskin University)

Date: July 2024

Research summary

Despite its status as a national security threat, we know remarkably little about the extent and nature of ‘serious and organised’ crime (SOC) appearing before the criminal courts, or the outcomes associated with these cases.

This research draws on over 12.6 million linked records from the criminal courts and prison system over an eight-year period. It examines the extent, nature and outcomes for SOC appearances and cases heard before the courts in England and Wales between January 2013 and December 2020. The findings from this research have been discussed in policy and analysis circles within government and law enforcement, including the Home Office, HM Prison and Probation Service, and National Crime Agency.

Using other (non-SOC) court appearances as a comparison, the research also considered:

  • the severity and geographic distribution of offending associated with SOC
  • the extent to which SOC committals were discontinued, dismissed, or resulted in an acquittal (including the factors which best predicted this outcome)
  • the rate and frequency of reappearances by SOC defendants before the criminal courts over time.

This research provides new, large-scale insights on aspects of known SOC offending. It also highlights several areas of future research interest.

This exploratory study was commissioned as part of the inaugural Data First Fellowship scheme, funded by ADR UK. It was one of the first projects to use de-identified, research-ready datasets made available by the Data First programme. Data First is a ground-breaking data linkage, research and academic engagement programme led by the Ministry of Justice, funded by ADR UK, and supported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Data used

The project used individual-level, de-identified records from the following four Data First resources:

  • Ministry of Justice, released 09 November 2021, ONS SRS Metadata Catalogue, dataset, Ministry of Justice Data First Magistrates’ Court Defendant - England and Wales (2013-2020), https://doi.org/10.57906/de97-0m89
  • Ministry of Justice, released 09 November 2021, ONS SRS Metadata Catalogue, dataset, Ministry of Justice Data First Crown Court Defendant - England and Wales (2013-2020), https://doi.org/10.57906/a5ds-fc94
  • Ministry of Justice, released 19 July 2022, ONS SRS Metadata Catalogue, dataset, Ministry of Justice Data First Prisoner Custodial Journey - England and Wales (2011-2021), https://doi.org/10.57906/t9d0-j521
  • Ministry of Justice, released 10 March 2022, ONS SRS Metadata Catalogue, dataset, Ministry of Justice Data First Linked Criminal Courts, Prisons and Probation - England and Wales (2011-2020), https://doi.org/10.57906/0y39-4s34

All data analysis associated with the project was undertaken within the ONS Secure Research Service, a trusted research environment.

Methods used

The project used descriptive statistics to summarise and describe the key characteristics of the Crown Court caseload. Drawing upon an existing definition of SOC as a proxy measure of this type of offending, this included quantifying the rate, volume, and severity of the offending attributable to SOC appearances over time.

It used comparative analysis to explore the extent to which this type of offending varied by geographic location, across crime types, and for different groups involved in SOC. This sort of analysis was also used to examine the degree to which SOC defendants were held in prison prior to their trial, the proportion who entered a guilty plea, and the rate of conviction. 

The research drew on more advanced forms of analysis to determine whether a range of factors - defendant demographics (for example, age, gender, and ethnicity), the presence of co-defendants, main offence, and location - were related to the probability of court proceedings being discontinued, dismissed, or the defendant being acquitted.

When examining the rate and frequency of court reappearances for new offences, the project also matched SOC and non-SOC defendants on relevant demographic, offence, and geographic variables. This was done with a view to identifying any risk or protective factors linked to reoffending.

Research findings

Few Crown Court appearances (6%) and cases (3%) in England and Wales between January 2013 and December 2020 met the criteria for SOC used by the study.


Most Crown Court appearances (90%) and those considered to be SOC in nature (83%) involved a male defendant.

The average age of SOC and other court defendants was 32 years.

Around two-thirds (68%) of defendants deemed to be involved in SOC self-identified as white. Most (77%) of cases considered to be SOC-related comprised only one ethnic group.

Offence profiles

There were differences in the offence profiles of SOC-related appearances and those involving other defendants appearing before the Crown Court - notably an over-representation of drug offences (57% vs. 15%).


On average, SOC appearances generated higher levels of crime-related severity or ‘harm’ (measured using ONS Crime Severity Scores). These were experienced differently across the regions of England and Wales.

At a local authority level, SOC-related appearances were concentrated in the North West and Midlands. Compared to other Crown Court appearances, SOC was linked to more affluent areas (as measured using the Indices of Multiple Deprivation).

Case outcomes

SOC appearances were more likely to involve a guilty plea (65% vs. 47%), result in a conviction (79% vs. 56%), and their trials were, on average, longer in length (121 days vs. 10 days). Those SOC appearances heard before a jury, however, were more likely to result in a discontinuation, dismissal, or acquittal (46% vs. 23%).

Fewer SOC defendants reappeared at court for further charges within two years (28% vs. 38%; see Figure 1 below). This accounts for any time spent in prison, with those still in custody at the start of 2019, or with no release date recorded at this point, being excluded from the analysis of reappearances. SOC defendants took longer, on average, to reappear before the courts (342 days vs. 273), their charges were more likely to have reduced in severity or seriousness (88% vs. 78%), they had fewer reappearances overall during the two-year follow-up period (1 vs. 2 occurrences), and they were less likely to have been recalled to prison (2% vs. 8%).

Research impact

The findings from the research have been presented to, and discussed with, policy and analytical teams from relevant government departments and law enforcement agencies. Examples include the Home Office, HM Prison and Probation Service, and the National Crime Agency.

The research has provided a new, in-depth understanding of how SOC defendants interact with the criminal courts in England and Wales, how their cases progress through the system, the sentences imposed upon them, and the extent to which they return to the courts over time. These insights can be invaluable in helping to develop a better understanding of the effectiveness of criminal justice responses to SOC-related offending.

The current SOC strategy, published by HM Government in December 2023, establishes a range of outcomes and success measures for assessing the impact of efforts to disrupt and dismantle forms of SOC operating in and against the UK. The strategy identifies the need to enhance levels of understanding around high-harm SOC offenders, and also emphasises improved criminal justice outputs and outcomes linked to arrests, charges and court convictions.

This study illustrates how the use of linked administrative data can generate powerful new insights for academic research and policymaking on SOC. This aligns especially with the Ministry of Justice’s departmental priorities to reduce reoffending and protect the public from serious offenders, as well as those of the National Crime Agency to better understand the nature and extent of the threat posed by SOC to the UK’s communities, economy and institutions.

Research outputs

Publications and reports

Data Insight 2, March 2023: The outcomes of serious and organised crime cases appearing before the criminal courts in England and Wales.

Data Insight, October 2022: Emerging findings on the nature, extent and outcomes of serious and organised crime cases prosecuted in England and Wales.

Data Explained, August 2022: Understanding the nature, extent and outcomes of serious and organised crime cases heard before the Crown Court in England and Wales.

Blogs, news posts, and videos

Video, October 2023: Who is prosecuted for serious and organised crimes, and what happens to them?

Blog, July 2021: What do we know about serious and organised crime and how effective is our response to it? Generating new insights using criminal courts data.


ADR UK Conference, November 2023.

24th Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology, September 2023.

Office for National Statistics Research Excellence Series, January 2023.

Data First Research Symposium, November 2022.

Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research Seminar, October 2022.

Ministry of Justice ‘Areas of Research Interest’ Seminar, October 2022.

ADR UK and Ministry of Justice Data First Magistrates' & Crown Court Fellowship Showcase Event, July 2022.

British Society of Criminology Annual Conference, June 2022 and July 2021.

Data First Academic Quarterly Seminar Series, October 2021.

ADR UK Public Policy Stakeholder Engagement Event, July 2021.

About the ONS Secure Research Service

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If you use ONS Secure Research Service data and would like to discuss writing a future case study with us, please get in touch at IDS.Impact@ons.gov.uk. Please also report any outputs here: Outputs Reporting Form


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