Cautions and community resolutions under spotlight of expert panel
To help ensure cautions are used appropriately in Essex, a wide-ranging expert group has reviewed a number of recent cases.
Chaired by Lindsay Whitehouse, Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Essex, the Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel is made up of representatives from the probation service, Victim Support, magistrates’ court and the Crown Prosecution Service. Two police advisors also sit in on the meeting.
The panel, which meets quarterly, is provided with details of 100 cases across the spectrum of criminal offences by Essex Police’s Criminal Justice and Offender Management Unit.
The cases have not resulted in criminal charges and have been dealt with by Essex Police out of court by way of a caution or neighbourhood resolution (such as a letter of apology).
Of those, the chair selects 10 cases for the panel to scrutinise and discuss whether they believe the use of a caution or community resolution was appropriate.
Where the panel feels an out of court disposal has not been appropriate, they take a vote and cases are referred back to individual officers or the force’s Professional Standards Department for review and for prosecution to be considered. To ensure the criminal justice experts have a dominant and entirely independent voice in the work of the Panel, the police advisors contribute to the discussion but do not vote.
Examples of this scrutiny at work saw the latest Panel refer back cases ranging from a GBH, cannabis production and possession of an offensive weapon.
In the GBH case, a caution had been given to the perpetrator who had thrown a glass in a busy pub causing injury two victims. In a separate example, an offender had been given a caution for growing 100 cannabis plants in a loft. However had this case reached court it would hold a maximum sentence of between one and six years in custody. Both cases will now be reviewed and could result in possible prosecutions.
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex Lindsay Whitehouse, who chairs the panel, said: “This panel emphasises one of the several ways in which the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner scrutinises the work of Essex Police.
“It is absolutely imperative that cautions and community resolutions are not only used appropriately but with the co-operation and support of victims.
“The panel doesn’t seek to criticise the work of police but rather aims to support and facilitate learning as to whether out of court disposals are appropriate.
“I also welcome the fact that Essex Police are fully co-operative and open to this process.”
Nigel Le Gresley, a member of the panel and Chair of the Essex Magistrates’ Association, said: “The main purpose of the panel is education and understanding.
“What we try to do is get police not just to consider legislation and their own guidance but for example to consider sentencing guidelines too. In cases, such as the example of the cannabis cultivation, with a sentencing starting point of between one and six years in prison, we should not be thinking about giving a caution, that is sending out the wrong message to perpetrators and the public.
“Out of Court disposals do have a role but they need to be scrutinised. “
Glenn Caton, who sits on the panel and is a manager of Essex Police’s Criminal Justice and Offender Management command, added: “As a panel we are not here to condemn people for their decisions. It is about considering whether a caution or community resolution was the best outcome and whether it could have been done better and improved for the future.
The Out of Court Disposal panel have now agreed to hold a dedicated domestic abuse session in the coming months.