One of my main aims behind writing this here blog is to help explain the law and police customs on behalf of those who may hear stories about the justice system in the news and think ‘that can never be right’.
Today there’s one such story in the papers concerning how community resolutions have apparently been used inappropriately to deal with reports of ‘serious violence’.
The implication of the headline is that offenders responsible for some of the most serious crimes we deal with are being let off with a slap on the wrist and victims are losing out as a result.
From the face of it, ‘that can never be right’ would be a very sensible reaction.
Serious violence demands a little more than an apology, surely suspects should be put before the wig-wearers at Crown Court and sent for a lengthy prison sentence?
It’s at this point it’s important to consider exactly how ‘serious violence’ is being defined so we can understand what offences within the category often actually look like.
Offences that have been considered ‘serious’ in reference to this story include causing actual bodily harm (ABH) and wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm without intent.
When it comes to the police decision as to which level of assault we’re going to record (or ‘crime’ in police speak), suffering pain is the benchmark for ‘actual bodily harm’.
This means were you to playfully punch a colleague on the arm and your colleague felt some pain, even in passing, we’d be obliged to record an offence of ABH were your colleague to make a complaint to ourselves.
Why? According to our ‘criming’ standards (by which I mean the exciting Home Office Counting Rules), feeling pain makes the difference between a common assault and ABH.
Now consider the benchmark for recording an offence of wounding. This is a category in which the severity of injury can vary hugely.
We define a ‘wound’ as a breaking of the continuity of the whole skin.
This could be a huge Holby City extra style gash running the length of someone’s body and this sort of wound is likely the sort you’d imagine as ‘grievous’.
Equally so though, it could be no bigger than a paper cut.
Because it’s the breaking of the skin that qualifies a wounding as such, many of the injuries that we record as woundings – I’d go as far to say the majority – are relatively minor, sometimes so small that they can’t even be photographed.
With the definition of ‘wound’ so encompassing, statistics for what is recorded as ‘serious violence’ can be somewhat skewed.
The 10,160 incidents of serious violence certainly doesn’t mean 10,160 people with stab wounds, broken bones and worse.
When it comes to agreeing community resolutions in relation to these sort of offence categories, it’s essential to keep in mind that we are victim led and that without the consent and agreement of the victims themselves, community resolutions aren’t even an option.
When we attend incidents, we have to consider the circumstances and will ask the person reporting what course of action they would see as appropriate. We do our best to explain the options and come up with a course of action that the victim is happy with.
Take a hypothetical example of two friends who after a few too many sherbets fall out and one ends up pushing the other against a door latch causing a very, very small cut to the forearm.
A complaint is made and as we’ve got a break in the skin, we have no choice but to record a crime of inflicting grievous bodily harm without intent. A serious crime has been registered, time for court!
Speaking to the now-sober victim though, he doesn’t want his friend to go to court. He’d rather an apology be made and they look at putting the matter behind them.
As we’ve checked his friend out and found he hasn’t been in trouble for violence in the past, we pull out the local resolution form and resolve the matter there and then.
It’s a proportionate, appropriate and very sensible way to sort out what at first appears a very serious offence but in reality is actually not quite as it seems.
So looking beyond the raw figures and into the detail of how wider a definition ‘serious violence’ can be, the story isn’t quite as shocking as it first appears.
Local resolutions are all about common sense, by properly understanding how we define the different levels of assault hopefully you can be reassured that our own understanding of common sense has not been lost.
P.S. If you’d like to know more about the different levels of assault, have a look at my blog on the subject from last September.
Hungry for more info on local resolutions? See our own website for a little more on how they’re used and why they’re useful.