Why a court case is not always the answer

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Spalding’s top policeman has explained the force’s use of cautions and offering restorative justice settlements to offenders rather than taking them to court.

Inspector Jim Tyner has come forward after Lincolnshire Police were criticised over a case in Spalding when Hayley Clayton was knocked unconscious in the street.

She was given a choice of cash compensation for her injury or a caution for her attacker.

Insp Tyner said: “I am unable to comment on the individual case, except to say that I am dismayed that, despite the fact that we have investigated a crime and tracked down the culprit, the victim feels that we have let her down.

“This is being looked in to and my colleague is in conversation with Mrs Clayton, but in the meantime, this tells me we need to focus further on victim care and ensure our decision-making is robust and transparent.”

Below, Insp Tyner provides an explanation of why police use alternatives to court, and some facts on their use in South Holland.

Why do they use them?

“Officers have always had enormous powers of discretion in how they deal with people that break the law.

“Many people talk fondly of the old-style village Bobby, who would send miscreants off with a clip around the ear.

“The problem with any informal approach is that it is always open to abuse and so, in recent years, successive governments have formalised and introduced new schemes designed to divert people away from the criminal justice system, while providing a consistent and transparent decision-making process.

“Not every case is the same and the decision-making process should consider the wishes of the victim, balanced with the seriousness of the offence, any mitigating circumstances and previous offending history.

“It’s a fine balance, so my officers follow the national guidelines for each scheme and apply their professional judgement.

“My officers are not lazy, but they are human and sometimes it is right that our decision-making is challenged.

“In recent weeks the Ministry of Justice has announced a review of the police use of cautions. I would welcome that review and any clarity it would bring. This can mean that two people arrested for the same offence may get dealt with differently.

“To illustrate this point, many years ago, I was assaulted while arresting a man for burglary. First, I was assaulted by the man and then, while struggling to restrain him, I was assaulted by his wife (she had a vicious right hook!)

“They were both arrested. The man, who had a string of previous convictions, was charged with assaulting me along with being charged with burglary. His wife received a caution. This was appropriate and proportionate.

“I have heard many comments that cautions and other alternatives don’t act as a deterrent or prevent re-offending.

“According to Government statistics 47 per cent of those who go to prison re-offend within 12 months of release; 34 per cent of people who receive a community order from a court re-offend within 12 months of conviction. The lowest re-offending rate is for of those who receive an adult caution: only 25 per cent re-offend.”

Fixed Penalty Notices

The Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) scheme was introduced in 2001 as a response to both the police and the Government’s requirement for an effective alternative for dealing with low-level, anti-social and nuisance offending. These are similar to speeding tickets and can only be issued for certain offences, including disorderly conduct, certain drunkenness offences and theft from shops. The decision-making process is governed by a ‘gravity matrix’.”

Cannabis Warnings

“These were introduced in 2008. If an adult is caught in possession of cannabis for the first time, they will be issued with a spoken warning given by a police officer. The police have the option of using a cannabis warning when someone is caught with a small amount of cannabis for personal use.”

Restorative Justice (RJ)

“When crimes or incidents are reported to us, officers will now consider whether a restorative resolution is an appropriate way to deal with the offender.

“RJ provides an opportunity to give victims the power to influence what happens to those responsible for crimes that affect them. Usually the victim will help design the course of punishment in order to resolve the offender’s wrongdoing.

“The scheme is deliberately streamlined; officers no longer spend lengthy periods completing extended reports and files resulting in minor punishments. In these times of public spending cuts, we must work more cost-effectively without reducing the service provided.

“Research shows that the average time taken to deal with an offence where a person is arrested is nine hours 15 minutes. Only one hour is spent with the victim (12 per cent of time). The average time taken to deal with an offence by means of Restorative Justice is three hours. Two hours involves the victim (66 per cent of time). This shows that RJ is much more victim focused and gives the victim a voice. It is the only criminal justice outcome that has been consistently shown to reduce re-offending

Cautions

“The Ministry of Justice describes the aims of the ‘simple caution’ as:

n To offer a proportionate response to low level offending where the offender has admitted the offence;

n To deliver swift, simple and effective justice that carries a deterrent effect;

n To record an individual’s criminal conduct for possible reference in future criminal proceedings or in criminal record or other similar checks;

n To reduce the likelihood of re-offending;

n To increase the amount of time officers spend dealing with more serious crime and reduce the amount of time they spend completing paperwork and attending court, whilst simultaneously reducing the burden on the courts.”

The chart above shows the use of these outcomes in South Holland.