Written 16th July 2012 by Olliers Solicitors

Proposals designed to overcome concerns about the use of cautions and other out of court disposals have been announced by the Ministry of Justice.

Out of Court Disposals

A recent report by Policy Exchange shows that in 2011 nearly 406,000 criminal offences were dealt with by out of court disposals including cautions, warnings and penalty notices. The figures indicate significant differences in the use of these disposals by different police forces. A quarter of all cases were dealt with in this way in the West Midlands whereas in Dyfed Powys the figure is close to a half. The report also highlights the use of cautions for serious offences and the repeated cautioning of persistent offenders.

Inappropriate Use of Cautions

The Criminal Justice White Paper published last week by the Ministry of Justice recognises that the inappropriate use of cautions may “undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system”. In order to address this a ‘Justice Test’ is to be introduced which is intended to assist police officers and others to determine whether a caution should be administered. Other plans include the removal of police targets in this area and the proper monitoring of these disposals.

Details of the Justice Test are still to be published and it remains to be seen whether these measures will be effective. Clearly it is essential that police officers retain the power to exercise discretion and deal with cases in this way where the circumstances demand it.

David Philpott

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