It's been mentioned many times on this site that 90% of criminal cases in the U.S. never go to trial, and instead end up with a plea bargain (or guilty plea). Does the same statistic generally hold true for the UK? If not, what are the reasons?

  • I strongly suspect that a very large percentage of criminal cases in the UK end with a guilty plea as part of a plea agreement, but I have not seen actual figures. Jan 31, 2022 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


There is no direct equivalent to the American-style plea bargain, but there are some similar procedures:

  • Basis of Plea

A defendant can offer a written guilty plea to a lesser offence with the same (or closely similar) facts as the offence charged, which has to be accepted by the court to take affect. The prosecutor must consult with and seek the views of all victims, and if the plea is accepted it must not be misleading or untrue. The Attorney General's Guidance provides more information on the process and the detailed requirements (which are too long to repoduce here).

  • Assisting Offenders

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 offer the option for a "minor-player" defendant to assist the prosecution and/or police by providing information to secure convictions of the principle offenders in return for immunity from prosecution (section 71), a restricted use undertaking (a version of immunity) (section 72) or a reduced sentence (section 73).

Immunity requires full and frank disclosure of all previous offending (referred to as "cleansing"), but for whatever reason the defendant does not "cleanse" they may still be eligible for a lesser sentence. Either way the assistance - either as evidence at trial or as intelligence given in confidence - should be substantial and verifiable to be eligible.


There is, as far as I can, no publicly available detailed statistics on these procedures, presumably the reason is that vast majority of the former cases go unreported and, despite some being public, there is a real risk of retribution to the informant in the latter.

  • 1
    Seems to be about 70% (in Crown Court) that don't go to trial. gov.uk/government/statistics/…
    – richardb
    Jan 31, 2022 at 19:14
  • @richardb Yep, but that's the total of guilty pleas, not those with an accepted basis (aka a"plea bargain") which is presumably lower.
    – user35069
    Jan 31, 2022 at 19:20
  • 1
    Indeed, it's hard to find the number of plea bargains separately but IMHO having some figures to compare with the "90% of criminal cases in the U.S. never go to trial" statement would better address the quantitative part of the question than none.
    – richardb
    Jan 31, 2022 at 21:24
  • The fact that the offenses are in Crown Court makes the numbers more credible and comparable. People may unconditionally plea guilty to minor offenses that are actually genuinely disputed simply to avoid the hassle. This kind of behavior when facing a conviction for a serious offense in Crown Court while a defendant is represented by appointed or retained counsel and years in prison could be at stake seems far less likely.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 2, 2022 at 1:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .