Richard Marks QC says society as a whole is being damaged
Victims are being "failed" by the justice system, with sex offenders and violent criminals being "let off", a top legal expert has claimed.
Richard Marks QC criticised the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for "cost-cutting", claiming too many serious offences did not reach a courtroom.
In Greater Manchester, 1,508 assaults and 163 burglaries were dealt with by means of a caution in 2007.
The CPS said: "It is rare a serious allegation is settled out of court."
Mr Marks represents barristers on the Northern Circuit and he sometimes sits as a judge.
"There has been a significant diminution in cases being sent to the crown court, we would hope that crime had dropped off but that's not the situation, it is a case of cost-cutting.
"The victims are being failed, offenders are being left-off and it is very damaging for justice and damaging for society as a whole," he said.
His claims are backed by Richard Monkhouse, a Trafford magistrate, who saw one case where a woman who had admitted a charge of violent disorder to police was then given an £80 fixed penalty notice.
An offence of violent disorder could carry a term of six months in jail. He was only alerted to it when she appeared in court for not paying the fine.
He told BBC Radio Manchester: "Up to about four or five years ago approximately 70% of all cases came through the court system, now about 50% are coming through the court.
"This means that 20% are being dealt with in a completely different way and more often than not they should be inside the court system.
"National sentencing guidelines are being completely ignored."
Government figures show that 43 sex offences in Greater Manchester did not go through the court system in 2007 and the offenders were given a caution.
The figures for 2008 are not yet available.
A CPS spokesman said: "The fall in the number of cases being brought before magistrates' courts can be explained in several ways.
"Reported crime has fallen sharply in Greater Manchester, also the police now have measures to divert some minor cases away from prosecution, including the use of fixed penalty notices and conditional cautions."