NEWS – “without comment”


Posted by: Ian (D. Withers)

England: Use of out of-court disposals by police out of control, magistrates warn

Magistrates in England and Wales have accused the police of undermining open justice by dealing with violent offenders behind closed doors.

ILN: 9th January 2023

In a report, the Magistrates’ Association warned against the “inconsistent” use of out-of-court punishments, many of which are tougher than those magistrates may impose.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures indicate that police meted out punishments without any recourse to the courts in more than 200,000 cases in the year to June 2022.

Despite the fact that these punishments are meant for “lower level” crimes and first-time offenders, the association said it had found that they were actually being used for serious offences too such as assaults, domestic abuse, hate crime and repeat knife offenders – who by law should be imprisoned.

The increase in the use of out of-court disposals (OOCDS) has occurred “haphazardly, without appropriate oversight and scrutiny” and represented a “troubling and largely unchecked transfer of power from the courts to the police”.

OOCDS range from community resolutions to cautions and may be handed out by police where accused persons admit guilt.

The most widely used are community resolutions, which account for nearly 139,000 of the punishments, an increase of almost 40 per cent from 102,000 four years ago.

They mandate that the offender apologises to those they have wronged and carry out reparation. In doing so they avoid a criminal record and do not receive a police caution.

In order to ensure that police are held to account in the application of OOCDS, individual forces are supposed to establish scrutiny panels. The association said, however, that four of the 43 forces have no such panels and that most of the panels failed to publish their findings.

Mark Beattie, association chair, said: “These results demonstrate a disturbing lack of national consistency of scrutiny by police and crime commissioners for a substantial level of criminal justice administration. The increasing number of serious offences dealt with by OOCDS seems to be developing unchecked.

“There needs to be a national review by the government and the senior judiciary to ensure the OOCD system operates in the interests of justice with proper transparency and accountability, and that it does not fly under the radar of good-quality justice.”