Average sentence lengths for violent and sexual offences in England and Wales fell steeply last year as the Covid pandemic also led to a huge slowdown in the number of people dealt with by the criminal justice system.

The average custodial sentence length for violent crimes fell by 22% to 18.5 months and the figure for sexual offences fell by 12% to 52 months, the lowest figure since 2011, according to official figures.

Sentence lengths fell in all categories, except for public order offences and “miscellaneous crimes against society”, which both increased slightly.

The surprise falls, which come despite government rhetoric about being tough on crime, were revealed in a Ministry of Justice report that lays bare the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the criminal courts.

The number of criminal defendants brought before the courts in England and Wales fell by nearly a third in the year to March 2021 from an already record low in 2019. The number of indictable offences heard was down 14.2% and the number of summary offences down 36.5%. The number of defendants convicted was down 33.8%.

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