What Are the Most Serious Crimes in the UK?

By February 7, 2023 June 6th, 2023 Criminal Law
Handcuff and Arrested

Being accused of committing a serious crime is perhaps one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing experiences we can face. After all, if you are not quite familiar with legal jargon, the term “serious crime” can seem grave and ominous. But what is it exactly, and what does it mean for your case? And what are the most serious crimes in the UK? 

This article will help you understand what a “serious crime” is and what you must do if you have been accused of committing one.

Indictable Only Offences Explained 

In the UK, there are three categories of criminal offences. They are summary offences, either way offences, and indictable only offences. Serious crimes fall under the indictable only category and, in most cases, involve a substantial prison sentence. In fact, many serious crimes carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Because of this, you must seek legal advice as soon as possible if you are charged with an indictable only offence. 

There are two ways to determine if a criminal offence is indictable only. The first one is if the crime is set out in a statute. For instance, Section 1(4) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that a person found guilty of committing rape is “liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life”. Therefore, a person guilty of rape has committed an indictable only criminal offence. 

Second is if the criminal act is a common law offence. This means instead of being written in a statute, a criminal case is set out as an indictable offence through the judgment the courts have made throughout the years. 

As with all criminal cases, a person accused of committing an indictable only offence must first appear before the Magistrates’ Court. However, because an indictable only offence is the most serious criminal charge, the case will be sent immediately to the Crown Court and dealt with by a judge as set out in Section 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1988

Once the case reaches the Crown Court, the person charged (known as “the defendant”) is expected to enter a plea. If they plead not guilty, the case will be adjourned for a trial, which will take place before a jury at a later date.

If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty after the trial, the judge will usually request a pre-sentence report prepared by the National Probation Service. This report will contain information about the defendant’s background and personal circumstances. It will also discuss the offence itself and make a recommendation as to the sentence. As well as considering the pre-sentence report, the judge will hear representations from the defendant’s barrister before passing an appropriate sentence.

Examples of Indictable Only Criminal Offences

If you’re asking, “What are the most serious crimes in the UK?” here are a few examples of indictable only offences to help you better understand what constitutes serious crimes.

1. Murder

Murder is one of the two criminal acts that comprise homicide. To convict a person of this criminal offence, it must be proven that the defendant is of sound mind and intends to kill or cause grievous bodily harm when they unlawfully killed another person in time of peace. Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment because of its severity. In each case, the judge will set what is known as the “tariff”, or the minimum period of time a defendant must serve in prison before they can be considered for release.

2. Manslaughter

Manslaughter is the other criminal activity that constitutes homicide. It can be committed in one of the following: 

  1.       Killing with the intent of murder
  2.       Possessing grossly negligent conduct
  3.       Having conduct taking the form of an unlawful act involving a danger of some harm resulting in death 

Manslaughter has two types: voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Category A is considered voluntary manslaughter and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. Meanwhile, categories B and C fall under involuntary manslaughter. Because no two involuntary manslaughter cases are completely alike, the sentence often depends on the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death. 

3. Rape

Rape is committed when an individual is aware that they have had non-consensual sex with a man or a woman. A rape case doesn’t need to involve violence or the other person to object actively. As mentioned earlier, the maximum sentence for this criminal offence is life imprisonment.

 4. Robbery

Given the severity of the criminal cases discussed above, you might be surprised to find that robbery is considered a serious crime under UK law. Under the Theft Act 1968, an individual is found guilty of committing this indictable only offence if they steal and, at the time of the theft or immediately before, they use force or seek to put any person in fear of being subjected to force. If convicted of robbery, the defendant may face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. 

 5. Kidnapping

Kidnapping refers to taking someone away, either forcefully or fraudulently, without their consent or a lawful excuse. It is not the same as false imprisonment, which only involves the unlawful detention of an individual. Similar to many indictable only offences, kidnapping carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

 6. Perverting the course of justice

Commonly known as “obstruction of justice”, perverting the course of justice is a criminal offence in which an individual knowingly interferes with the ruling of law regarding a case involving them or other parties. This includes hiding or falsifying evidence, making false accusations to cover up a crime, and threatening or interfering with witnesses/jury members to influence the case’s outcome. If a person is found guilty of perverting the course of justice, they may be required to pay a fine, serve a prison sentence, or both.

Other Indicatable Only Offences

Other criminal offences that are indictable only include:

  • Death by dangerous driving
  • Wounding with intent (under section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861)
  • Possession of firearm with intent (under section 16 of the Firearms Act)
  • Aggravated burglary (burglary with violence)

It is also interesting to know that either way offences can become triable only on indictment in certain circumstances. For example, if a person commits a third dwelling house burglary, the what is known as the “three strikes’ ‘ rule will apply. If found guilty, the defendant will be subjected to a minimum sentence of three years imprisonment. Similar provisions may apply to drug traffickers with two previous convictions, who will be subjected to a minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment for repeat offences. 

Seek Legal Assistance As Soon As Possible 

Serious crimes in the UK carry severe punishments that can significantly impact an individual’s life if found guilty. For this reason, time is of the essence if you have been accused of committing an indictable only offence. By seeking legal advice, you can quickly determine your options and identify the steps you need to take to achieve a favourable outcome. 

At Wheldon Law, we are UK criminal law experts dedicated to helping our clients obtain the best possible outcome for their respective cases. If you need expert legal assistance, get in touch with us, and call us at 01442 242999 or email us at hello@wheldonlaw.co.uk and we will provide you with free preliminary legal advice.