Police cautions to be scrapped

A PC, no doubt busy "wrongly dishing out" a caution

I read a news story this morning telling me that Chris "Failing" Grayling is to scrap police cautions so that victims of crime do not feel as though offenders are "walking away scot-free".

First, I should say that I don't hold any firm views on whether this is a good idea or not; however, being deeply cynical of all noises emanating from the mouths of politicians I am inclined to see this as populist hot air.

What are police cautions?  In case you don't know and, like Mr Grayling, believe that a police caution means nothing I shall explain what these things are.  The police can issue a caution where a crime has been committed, somebody has admitted to the crime and has expressed regret.  They will not usually be given if the offender has received a previous caution or has been convicted of a similar offence.  They are useful where it might not be wise to criminalise somebody, e.g. a 12 year old stealing some make up - the cost of prosecution and the resulting criminal record may make some people think that going down the court route is a waste of time, money and resources.  It is also likely to have repercussions for the child later on and may make future offending more likely as a result.

There are two types of police caution: simple and conditional.  Both are normally only used for minor offences.  A simple caution is the end of the matter; however, the caution is recorded on a person's criminal record, although it is not a conviction, and may be disclosable in certain situations.  It will show up on an enhanced criminal records check.  A conditional caution is the same as a simple caution except that the offender must complete some additional task, e.g. paying compensation, writing a letter of apology to the victim, cleaning graffiti or taking part in a drug rehab course.

Mr Grayling proposes a two-tier system whereby first time offenders would receive a "statutory community resolution", which the BBC says, "could see them offering a verbal or written apology to their victim, paying compensation or fixing damage."  The Ministry of Justice has said that community resolutions would not be recorded on criminal record.  So, it's basically a conditional caution but one that is not going to show up on an enhanced criminal records check... I'd call that watering down the existing system but then what do I know?

More serious offences will receive a suspended prosecution that could see offenders paying a fine or attending a drug rehab course.  The wording of the announcement suggests that suspended prosecutions could be issued to second (or more) offenders and that rehab would not be available for those handed a community resolution.  I also can't help but notice that neither the community resolution nor the suspended prosecution currently allows for compensation to be paid to the victim, unlike existing conditional cautions!  The fact that suspended prosecutions are designated for "more serious offences" also suggests that they will be used for offences that would currently be outside the scope of the existing cautioning system in ordinary situations.

The proposals toughen up the cautioning system by abolishing the simple caution; however, they also appear to water down the system in other ways.  For example, by appearing to allow cautions for second time offenders and for more serious offences.

I also wonder who is going to administer this new system?  In the 12-months to September 2012 there were 205,700, which is a 44% fall from the year ending September 2007.  If we are now going to have 205,700 people either being prosecuted or taking part in the new community resolutions and suspended prosecutions then we are going to need a LOT more people monitoring, organising and running these schemes.  Do the Government expect the police to do it?  If so, I can promise you they'll be a lot less bobbies on the beat.  They can't expect the National Probation Service to do it since they just effectively abolished them as well and handed the work to their mates in the private sector (50% of the work went to a major Tory donor and a company run by the wife of the Chief Inspector of Probation - incidentally the inspector was appointed by Grayling and the contract was awarded by... er... Grayling).  So, who exactly is going to run this system and check that the conditions imposed are actually being complied with?

Sadly, in the modern "talk tough... talk bullshit" culture in which politicians exist I don't expect any reasoned debate from the opposition after Sadiq Khan said, "Under David Cameron's government, too many criminals have been getting away with serious crimes.  On their watch, cautions have been dished out wrongly for serious sexual and violent crimes like rape."  It's worth saying that in 2011/12 there were 16,000 reported rapes the police had a detection rate of 30% whereas only 21% of robberied and 13% of burglaries ended with a sanctioned detection, i.e. were solved.  Of those 16,000 rape reports there were 19 cautions "dished out" for rape and of those 19, 16 were given to offenders under 18 years of age.  I'd hardly describe a caution rate of 0.1% as "dishing out" cautions and would suggest that it is an indication of prosecutors and police using their discretion to give a caution only when appropriate.

Sadly, Mr Khan obviously doesn't know what he is talking about, to suggest that cautions are simply "dished out wrongly" shows either a shocking failure to understand the Criminal Justice System or a willingness to play politics with an important public system designed to protect society and individuals.

Mr Khan's words about cautions being "dished out" are particularly galling given that in 2007 (when Mr Khan's party was in power) there were 367,300 cautions handed out compared to 205,700 in 2012.  Also in 2007 there were 27 cautions "dished out" to men accused of rape or attempted rape of a female, which is higher than the 19 in 2012.  But, as a politician Mr Khan will have no interest in letting facts get in the way of a good political football.

Politicians like to play politics and they don't care if they play it with each other, rape victims, child abuser victims or anyone else.


  1. This is a great blog and couldn't of said it better myself. It appears that this pilot has come at a time to influence voters and ignores costs, common-sense, the circumstances behind receiving a caution, the implications on disclosure and the ripple effect on individuals, CJS and communities (including tax-payer).
    By ignoring the circumstances that can lead to offending, increasing the severe barriers that ex-offenders face in moving on from minor offences and potentially removing any incentive for a person to not "roll the dice" will only increase the burden on police and CPS, lead to more barriers to education, employment and other purposes, confine more people to a life on benefits. Therefore increasing the potential for reoffending and thus creating even more victims. The flip-side is that cautions and conditional cautions are no longer disclosable on criminal record checks due to becoming community resolutions and therefore employers will be "up in arms" complaining they are not being shared critical information that helps inform their risk assesment when considering applicants for roles which require DBS checks. Even if government decides to amend the ROA 1974 to incorporate these new disposals they would need to consider the implications on the ROA as amended in March 2014 and also the DBS filtering regime implemented as a result of government losing a human rights challenge. Absolute minefield

  2. Scraped? Scrapped!

    1. Ooops - thanks.

      As usual errors are the risks I run of trying to blog while discussing home made UFOs with a 4 year old.

  3. There's an election looming so these ideas get trotted out and then quietly shelved later.Expect lots more from both sides.

  4. Having spent years at the bar I have seen most things come around once or twice before. Mr Grayling is typical of the political fiddler- can't just leave things alone, he has to make his mark!

    Cautions are a terribly serious matter and far from being a non-event have the power to completely ruin a persons life. They are not and should not be played with lightly.of course, the hang-em and flog-em brigade, usually porting a blue rinse or a colonel Blimp tash are the aim for this ill thought out policy.

    if anything we should have more cautions, not less and more compasion for those who do wrong but want to do good.

    1. Consequences can be very serious - many years ago we had a client who took a caution against advice of his solicitor for a sex offence - he and girl were about 15 caught by her parents stripping in front of each other or something like that. Was the early days of the sex offenders register and client didn't appreciate that he'd have to sign the register if he took the caution! Very upset afterwards.

  5. Cautions can be good. But a 29-year-old man, refused entry to the US on the basis of a caution received at the age of 17 for possession cannabis — despite now being married to a US citizen, can have really unexpected long-term effects.

    1. To be honest, I'm not sure there's any certain way of knowing what the American's will get upset about and refuse admission for.

      They take drugs seriously they claim yet I came across a man who received a 5 year sentence for importing five TONS of cannabis and he served less than a year!

      Funnily enough he's now a multimillionaire and the USA has no problem with him entering the USA!

  6. It's a shame politicians mess with peoples lives.
    It seems normally the Yanks are very haphazard in approach- If your rich and a pop star you can slip in but joe public have a harder time


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