COMMONS

Too many serious offences and persistent offenders unpunished, say MPs

06 March 2015

Home Affairs Committee publishes report on out-of-court disposals on 6 March 2015.

The Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has today published its report, Out-of-court disposals following a short inquiry.

Findings

Appropriateness of decisions

  • Out-of-court disposals (OOCDs) are not designed to deal with serious offences, nor with persistent offenders.
  • Whilst OOCDs can save the police time and administrative cost, allowing officers to spend more time on the frontline, they must not be used by police merely as a time-saving tool.

Regional variations in use

  • The way in which OOCDs have originated, and how local police forces have used them, has created a postcode lottery.

Proposed reforms

  • The reforms that have been made to simple cautions will go some way to restore public confidence in this type of disposal. The introduction through guidance of a high bar for their use when dealing with serious or repeat offences should ensure that in such cases, they can only be used in exceptional circumstances.
  • The current "organically developed" OOCD system is too complex, which does not help police officers. The proposed new system benefits from being a straightforward, escalatory process.

Scrutiny panels

  • Scrutiny panels must be established in all police force areas, so that decisions to use OOCDs are reviewed for appropriateness and consistency across the country. In addition, the feedback the panels provide will assist in identifying any extra training that police officers require. 
  • The representative of the police on the scrutiny panel should be at least at the rank of Assistant Chief Constable, so that they have the authority to implement recommendations emanating from the panel.
  • To improve public confidence in OOCDs, that scrutiny panels should include the experience of victims, whether that voice is provided through a voluntary organisations or through victims themselves.

Guidance to police officers

  • The work that the College of Policing has done to provide Authorised Professional Practice guidance on the six OOCDs should bring more consistency to the practices of police forces, if followed. If the new OOCD system is fully rolled out, the College must be ready to provide the authoritative guidance from the outset, so that the problems of the current system do not reoccur.

Chair's comments

Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"The inappropriate use of out of court disposals to deal with serious offences is unacceptable. It is alarming that they are not being used in the correct way in up to 30% of cases. This has damaged public confidence in the police’s ability to tackle low level offending.

Forces have been allowed to interpret guidance on out of court disposals in their own way, resulting in a postcode lottery across the UK in the way crimes are dealt with. It cannot be right that while an offence committed in Cumbria would go to court, in Gloucestershire it may be dealt with by a caution.

We need a new out-of-courts disposal system which is a clear, escalatory process. This would give the police the opportunity to start from a clean slate, and allow them to tackle low-level offending appropriately. Scrutiny panels must be established in all police force areas, so that decisions to use OOCDs are appropriate and consistent across the country. We cannot allow the misuse of OOCDs in serious cases to continue. The public deserve to feel reassured that their local police forces are not tackling serious crimes with a slap on the wrist."

Further information

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