Police to stop handing out cautions

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West Yorkshire Police will no longer hand out cautions as part of an overhaul of out-of-court punishments which will eventually be extended across across England and Wales.

West Yorkshire Police, along with forces in Leicestershire and Staffordshire, will trial the system where the six disposals available to police officers, including cautions and cannabis warnings, are replaced with two new measures.

One is a ‘community resolution’, aimed at first-time offenders responsible for a minor crime, where they would have to either offer an apology, repair the damage or pay financial compensation.

The other is a suspended prosecution, designed to tackle more serious offending, where the person responsible will face being brought before court if they don’t comply with a condition such as attending a rehabilitation course.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the use of the simple caution, where an offender simply accepts the caution with no immediate consequences, will end. The current disposals which will be replaced are conditional cautions, simple cautions, penalty notices for disorder and cannabis and khat warnings.

The three areas will trial the new approach over the next 12 months and if successful it will be replicated across the country.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “It isn’t right that criminals who commit lower-level crime can be dealt with by little more than a warning. It’s time we put an end to this country’s cautions culture. I think every crime should have a consequence, and this change will deliver that.

“Under the new system we are introducing, offenders will face prosecution if they fail to comply with the conditions set by the police, so that no one is allowed to get away with the soft option.

“Our police officers do a brilliant job in keeping our streets safe. But victims should not feel like offenders are walking away scot-free. I’m not prepared to allow the current situation to continue and that is why I am making these changes.

“This new approach will empower victims and give them a say in how criminals are dealt with, as well as making it easier for officers to deal with more minor offences.”

National policing lead on out-of-court disposals Chief Constable Lynne Owens said: “Any reform must aim to simplify it in order to assist public understanding and reduce bureaucracy.

“The pilots seek to test a new approach which gives officers and staff the discretion to deal with cases appropriately. It will engage the victim in the process and require offenders to take responsibility for their actions.”

There were 391,171 out-of-court disposals handed out in the year to March, which included 235,323 cautions, 77,933 cannabis warnings and 77,915 penalty notices for disorder, compared to 522,133 disposals given in the year to March 2010.

A Ministry of Justice consultation last year found 71 per cent of respondents wanted out-of-court disposals to be simplified.

Paul Ford, spokesman for the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents tens of thousands of rank-and-file police officers, said: “If the pilot proves to increase confidence and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, it will be beneficial for everyone.

“It should be noted, however, that lack of sufficient training in this area may pose a threat to its potential success.”