Huge numbers of offenders, including thieves, arsonists and drug traffickers, are “escaping the justice system” in London by being issued with cautions from the Metropolitan Police. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 29,560 police cautions were handed by the force over the past twelve months meaning offenders avoided court proceedings.
A police caution is a formal warning given by the police to an adult offender aged 18 years or over and who has admitted that they are guilty of an offence. Similar reprimands are available for juvenile offenders. Although a caution is not a conviction, it forms a part of a person’s criminal record and can be used as evidence of bad character if a person goes to court for another crime and in Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for certain types of employment.
The figures include 1,356 criminals who were cautioned for serious assaults being wounding or grievous bodily harm, as well as 301 drug traffickers. Cautions were also given for 286 sex offences, including two rapes. Of these 236 offenders have received cautions on more than five separate occasions.
Many have criticised the use of criminal cautions and argued that victims are being denied justice in an open court.
Tony Arbour, a Conservative London Assembly member who made the request for the statistics, commented:
“The public can’t have confidence in a system where so many offenders are dealt with outside of court, just so that cases can be disposed of quickly.
“In effect, these people are being let off – some characters on more than five occasions. Cautions and fines should only be used as a warning the first time a criminal is caught.
“If you have been a victim of a serious assault or a burglary, with all the trauma that entails, and discover that the matter has simply been dealt with by a caution, you would be very angry.
“It may well be preventing people from coming forward and reporting crimes if they think it will just be disposed with by a caution.
“This should be a wake-up call to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).”
He went on to argue that cautions are being utilised as a cost saving tool:
“If the police can say that they have caught the perpetrator and they have been punished, because a caution is a punishment, then that is helpful for their statistics.
“If the CPS think they are going to lose they may well feel that getting a satisfactory resolution and a cheap resolution is better than going to trial and losing.”
However, a spokesman for the Metropolitan police defended the force and indicated they followed national guidance in relation to the issuing of cautions:
“A caution is a serious matter: they are not taken lightly and we are conscious of the consequences that this judicial disposal can have on a person’s future,” he said.
“It should also be recognised that they are used predominately to deal with first-time offenders and as an alternative to court appearance where guilt is admitted.”