Posts Tagged 'charge'

Cautioners…

Caution is advised when venomous snakes are around, how do the police decide if a caution is appropriate when it comes to crime though? (Image from TampAGS)

As you may have seen in the news, today the government has announced that it’s going to be reviewing how us officers make decisions as to when it’s appropriate to issue cautions to offenders.

Whilst the figures suggest that overall use of police cautions has fallen by over 40% during the past five years, concerns have been raised that cautions have sometimes been issued to repeat offenders and for offences that appear serious enough to have been put before the courts.

Understanding what cautions are, how decisions are reached to issue them and why they are useful is important in understanding the role they play in the criminal justice system.

Starting off, a caution isn’t a conviction and so as you may have read on my CRB blog last year, doesn’t need to be disclosed when applying for job unless specifically asked about.

A caution is closer to an official warning from the police, having admitted guilt a person being issued a caution signs a caution form in custody and the matter is finalised there and then. We deem the associated crime ‘detected’ or solved and the case is closed.

Cautions can be ‘simple’ or ‘conditional’, the latter meaning that they are subject to appropriate conditions, say paying compensation, and there are similar options that we can use for under eighteens too.

Following considerations about what is in the public interest, we make decisions when deciding about how to dispose of a case by looking at all circumstances.

An offender’s previous offending history is obviously an important part in looking at whether they might be eligible for a caution.

If someone has come to the attention of the police for the first time, a caution may be the way forward as it offers that person a chance to get back on track, to make amends, to ensure that they don’t repeat the same mistake.

Working in the other way though, someone whose criminal record shows they’ve done the same sort of thing over and again will need some stronger intervention and so may well find themselves shipped off to court.

In the West Midlands, we use ‘gravity scores’ by which each offence category is given a score according to how serious it is, mitigating and aggravating circumstances are then considered which alter the score accordingly.

The final score, between one and four, indicates whether a caution would be appropriate or not.

This helps ensure that decisions about issuing cautions are consistent across the force.

As for why cautions are a useful option, I’d disagree that there’s a motivation for issuing them on the basis that police “don’t have to prepare so much paperwork” as the Magistrates’ Association has suggested.

Rather, public interest is I think the larger consideration with it simply not being the best option in terms of cost, time or use of resources to send someone who has admitted guilt to a low level offence to court when a more proportionate option is available.

Of course to the victim no offence is ‘low level’ and their views are important in deciding what is the right course of action.

Charging someone rather than issuing a caution does indeed require some extra work, a relatively short ‘first hearing’ file, but this is done electronically and shouldn’t take much longer than an hour or two to put together.

As the Ministry of Justice has announced, the review is wider ranging than simply examining whether cautions are being issued appropriately and seeks to establish also whether they are issued consistently across forces and how the acceptance of a caution impacts upon individuals.

Due to be published in May, the findings are likely to be very interesting, particularly in terms of showing to what extent the way that cautions are viewed and employed varies around the country.

These are my twisted words…

CPS have charged Terry with a Public Order offence but how have they reached this decision?

There’s been lots of talk in the news recently about someone called John Terry being charged by the Met for something he’s alleged to have said to a guy called Anton Ferdinand.

I may as well start off my admitting that when it comes to football itself, I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. If you’re reading this post hoping for some insight about how the charge will affect Chelsea’s hopes of winning the Football Cup, you may be disappointed.

What I do know you a little about though is what the reports of the CPS looking at Terry’s ‘file’ and making a charging decision mean. In this shortish post I aim to explain a little about the process through which the Met will have gone to put Terry in front of the Magistrates.

Terry had been accused of using racist language towards Ferdinand during a Premier League game at the end of October this year. A member of the public had overheard him using what was perceived to be unacceptable words and had made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police. The suspicion was that the words used may amount of a Public Order offence.

The Met had looked into the allegation, no doubt referring to Loftus Road Stadium‘s truly exceptional CCTV system, and on the basis of the evidence officers conducted a voluntary interview about the matter at Terry’s home.

Having completed their investigation – gathered all of the available evidence and obtained an account from Terry himself under caution – officers then had to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.

Who is able to make a decision to charge a suspect with an offence – that is to say that it is appropriate to send someone to court to answer an allegation – depends on the type of offence.

For fairly straightforward cases involving relatively low level crimes – thefts, criminal damage and the like – the police can usually make the decision independently as to whether there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to send a person to court.

More complicated/serious matters or those with a domestic, racial or hate element require the CPS to review the evidence before authorising the police to charge.

Because the allegation made against Terry was that he had used racial abuse, the matter had to be submitted for the attention of CPS.

When reports were made of a file being handed to CPS, this would have meant copies of the statements collected during the investigation and possibly any visually recorded evidence such as that collected by television cameras and pitch-side microphones, had been sent for CPS to look at.

Having this evidence in their possession, CPS then need to consider The Code and decide firstly whether there is sufficient evidence to allow a realistic prospect of conviction and secondly, is it in the public interest to put the matter before the courts – the combination of these considerations being referred to as the ‘Full Code Test‘.

Once the strengths and the weaknesses of the case have been assessed, CPS will then advise the police if they think the suspect should be charged or not.

In Terry’s case CPS have made the decision that he should be charged with a racially aggravated S. 5 Public Order offence and so he will now be summonsed – told he has to appear at court – where the matter will go to trial and he will be asked to enter a plea.

The use of racially abusive language – on or off the pitch – is clearly unacceptable and if Terry is found guilty the fact that the offence is racially aggravated will inform the sentence passed. The case has been provisionally scheduled for February 1st and I’ll be very interested to see how both the courts and The FA deal with the allegation.


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