Written 28th March 2014 by Olliers Solicitors

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, has said that cautions for offences such as rape and manslaughter are ‘unacceptable and unfair’ to victims. The Justice Secretary spoke ahead of the Conservative party conference which started in Manchester on Monday of this week, the 30th September, and indicated that serious offenders will no longer receive a mere “slap on the wrist”.

Simple Cautions

A Police caution (more commonly known as a simple caution since 2005) is a formal warning given by the Police to an adult offender aged 18 years or over who has admitted that they are guilty of an offence. A Police caution is a non-statutory disposal of an offence and a formal alternative to prosecution.

The aims of the formal Police caution as detailed in the relevant Home Office circular are:

  1. To offer a proportionate response to low level offending where the offender has admitted the offence;
  2. To deliver swift, simple and effective justice that carries a deterrent effect;
  3. To record an individual’s criminal conduct for possible reference in future criminal proceedings or in criminal record or other similar checks;
  4. To reduce the likelihood of re-offending;
  5. To increase the amount of time officers spend dealing with more serious crime and reduce the amount of time Police officers spend completing paperwork and attending court, whilst simultaneously reducing the burden on the courts.

Chris Grayling said he was scrapping simple cautions, which do not involve any form of punishment, for serious crimes such as rape, manslaughter and robbery, sexual offences against children such as child prostitution or pornography, possession of an offensive weapon or supplying a class-A drug.

Serious Offences

The Justice Secretary said:

“Last year, nearly 500 offenders who admitted committing some of the most serious crimes escaped with just a slap on the wrist.

“Quite simply this is unacceptable and unfair on victims. That is why I am scrapping simple cautions for all of the most serious offences and a range of other offences that devastate lives and tear apart communities.”

In 2013, 5084 cautions were issued for offences that would ordinarily go to the Crown Court due to their seriousness. These included 962 for offences involving knives, 1,543 for other weapons and 54 for supply of Class A drugs.

Cautions were also used to deal with a variety of offences relating to children, including seven for child prostitution and pornography, 183 for offences relating to indecent photographs of children, 268 for possession of indecent photographs of a child, and 1,560 for cruelty or neglect of children.

The new guidance comes as a review is launched into the use of other out-of-court disposals, such as penalty notices. The policing and criminal justice minister, Damian Green, said:

“It’s time we get tough – that’s why we are seriously clamping down on the use of simple cautions and reviewing all out-of-court disposals. We need to sort this out once and for all if the public and victims are going to have confidence in the criminal justice system.

“Simple cautions can be an appropriate way for the police to deal with low-level offending. However they are not suitable for criminals who commit serious offences like rape or robbery, which can ruin victims’ lives.”

Saskia Abbot

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