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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The end of the road for cautions?

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Police officers will use their professional judgement to assess an offence, taking into account the wishes of the victim and the offender’s history, in order to reach an outcome which best meets the needs of the victim and of the public. Of course, many police services have been using these community resolutions

Plans to scrap cautions

Earlier this month (1st November 2014), the Ministry of Justice issued a press release (somewhat bizarrely on a Saturday morning) which announced the government’s plans to scrap the use of “soft” cautions in England and Wales and replace them with a system of suspended prosecutions.

The latest in a series of “tough on crime” measures, the MoJ press release said the aim of the scheme is to:

“ensure that there are more direct consequences in future for committing even minor crimes”

The initiative comes in the wake of a consultation held by the MoJ in 2013 which reported a consensus that the out-of-court disposals framework was too complex.

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How it works

Instead of the existing six disposals (conditional caution, simple caution, penalty notice for disorder, cannabis and khat warning and community resolution) the new framework will comprise of:

  • a new statutory community resolution – aimed at first-time offenders, this will be used to resolve minor offences through an agreement with the offender. It will give victims a say in how they want the offender to be dealt with. It could see an offender offering a verbal or written apology to the victim, making reparation (which can include fixing material damages) or paying financial compensation
  • a suspended prosecution – designed to tackle more serious offending, it will allow the police to attach one or more conditions to the disposal which must be reparative, rehabilitative and/or punitive in nature. It could see the offender receiving a punitive fine or attending a course designed to rehabilitate him or her and reduce the likelihood of re-offending

Under this new two-tier framework, offenders would have to take steps to comply with the disposal, rather than just accepting a warning, which is the basis of the current cautioning system. If they fail to comply, they will risk being prosecuted for the original offence.

Police officers will use their professional judgement to assess an offence, taking into account the wishes of the victim and the offender’s history, in order to reach an outcome which best meets the needs of the victim and of the public.

Of course, many police services have been using these community resolutions or “Street RJ” (restorative justice) for some years.

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Conclusion

It isn’t clear to me the legal status of these new “suspended prosecutions” and whether these statutory community resolutions will go on an individual’s criminal record in the same way as cautions do (see this helpful guide from Unlock)

The system  will be piloted in the Staffordshire, West Yorkshire and Leicestershire police force areas for a one year period.

If the pilots prove successful (and the tone of the Press Release presumes that they will), cautions will end.

Over the years, cautions have served a valuable function, essentially keeping large numbers of, mainly, young people out of the criminal justice system. We know that once people are labelled as offenders and come into contact with other offenders at probation offices and attendance centres, they are more likely to re-offend.

Does this same logic apply today?

There is clearly value in any person who commits an offence against another individual having to face the consequences of their actions. But weren’t cautions a useful disposal for minor first time offenders?

I’d be interested in your views, and particular those from serving police officers, who will be administering the new community resolutions.

Please use the comments section below.

 

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4 Responses

  1. How will this work for victimless crimes ? I would argue that the khat and cannabis crimes have the same victim as the offender. If I was in that situation would I be able to suggest that the offender gets off with no further action ?

  2. The old regime of disposals developed in an ad hoc way and has become rather cumbersome. The proposed two tier system should bring clarity for practitioners, victims and offenders. It seems to allow for diversion out of the CJS but also opportunities to deliver interventions that are truly restorative. See the Guardian’s report of the Surrey Youth Restorative Intervention in the Guardian that GtD evalauted. The YRI was the default response to youth crime in Surrey and replaced the youth cautions and youth conditional cautions.

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/17/restorative-justice-young-offenders-crime

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