Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘out of court disposal

Criminal justice – simplifying out of court disposals

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The Government has recently announced that it is launching a new pilot scheme that will significantly change the way in which out of court disposals for those accused of criminal activity are dealt with.

It is already the case that the use of out-of-court disposals overall has decreased in recent years. Thus in the 12 months to the end of March 2014, there were 391,171 given, comprising 235,323 cautions, 77,933 cannabis warnings and 77,915 penalty notices for disorder. This compares to 522,133 out-of-court disposals given in the 12 months to the end of March 2010.

The new scheme – which does not affect penalty notices for disorder – will comprise:

  1. a new statutory community resolution – aimed at first-time offenders. This will be used to resolve minor offences through an agreement with the offender. It will empower victims, giving them a say in how they want the offender to be dealt with. It could see an offender offering a verbal or written apology to the victim, making reparation (which can include fixing material damages) or paying financial compensation;
  2. a suspended prosecution – designed to tackle more serious offending. This will allow the police to attach 1 or more conditions to the disposal which must be reparative, rehabilitative and/or punitive in nature. It could see the offender receiving a punitive fine or attending a course designed to rehabilitate him or her and reduce the likelihood of re-offending

Under this new two-tier framework, offenders would have to take steps to comply with the disposal, rather than just accepting a warning, which is often the case with the current system. If they fail to comply, they will risk being prosecuted for the original offence.

The pilot scheme will operate in three polic areas for 12 months and will be assessed before a decision is taken on whether to roll out the framework nationally.

For further information, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/putting-an-end-to-soft-option-cautions

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Written by lwtmp

November 4, 2014 at 10:31 am

Reforming the criminal justice system

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This blog has already noted ideas for reforming criminal justice – for example, the creation of new traffic courts, and the review of the criminal trial process to make it more cost effective.

A policy think tank, the Policy Exchange, has recently (Feb 2014) published a paper – Future Courts – setting out ideas for more radical reform of the criminal justice system, in particular magistrates’ courts. The following synopsis is taken from their website. What ideas do you think might work? What would not?

“Magistrates should dispense justice inside police stations at peak times – including evenings and weekends – and be put in charge of the administration of out-of-court disposals, as part of a radical drive to speed up the operation of the criminal justice system.

Future Courts argues that locating magistrates in police stations would deliver much swifter justice, dramatically reducing the time it takes to punish criminals. There is currently a two month delay from the time an offender is charged by the police to the sentence being handed down in a magistrates’ court. The report says that this wasted time weakens the power of punishments and means that the system does little to change the behaviour of offenders.

Reforming summary justice so that magistrates hear cases on-the-spot in police stations would also allow them to oversee or directly administer out-of-court disposals such as simple cautions. There has been considerable public concern about the police’s use of these disposals, which now account for 20% of all criminal cases, including their use in response to very serious offences such as rape. The report calls for a massive expansion in the size of the magistracy to help meet the requirements of these expanded roles. Currently there are 23,000 magistrates and they preside over 90% of all criminal cases in England and Wales, although applications to join the magistracy have dramatically decreased in recent years.

The paper highlights the huge financial pressures faced by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service, which must cut its budget by 37.8% between 2012 and 2016. It says that the Ministry of Justice will inevitably focus on reducing the size of the court estate to meet this challenge. With 230 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales, compared to just 180 NHS Accident and Emergency Departments, the paper concludes that there is significant scope to re-alter the size of the estate, but that the government must take concrete steps to protect the local justice infrastructure and the functioning of the lay magistracy, which has existed for over 650 years.

The report recommends:

The recruitment of 10,000 new magistrates, taking overall numbers to 33,000: They would sit in police stations and other community buildings, oversee out-of-court disposals, review offenders’ sentences on an on-going basis, and spend a third of their volunteering time undertaking community engagement work.
A more diverse magistracy: courts sitting during evenings and weekends will encourage younger, professional people to apply, but more action is needed. Instead of automatic retirement at 70, a new ‘tenure period’ for magistrates of 10 years should be implemented, creating greater turnover – and polices should be enacted to specifically target younger and more ethnically diverse recruits.
Greater court innovation: The Ministry of Justice, the Judicial College and the Magistrates’ Association should devise a new training package for 500 or so ‘problem solving’ magistrates and judges, specialising in dealing with people with drug and alcohol addiction.
The creation of new ‘Justice Hubs’: Court buildings currently house an average of six courtrooms. As the overall footprint of the court estate is reduced, the report recommends the creation of much larger courthouses, containing around 50 courtrooms. Newly-built or converted ‘Justice Hubs’, located to serve major population areas and co-located with other justice agencies, would accommodate different criminal courts (e.g. magistrates and Crown Courts), civil courts and tribunals under the same roof, as well as housing the full range of justice services and custody facilities.”

To read the whole report go to http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/publications/category/item/future-courts-a-new-vision-for-summary-justice

Written by lwtmp

March 3, 2014 at 11:11 am

Out-of-court disposals: policy change and review

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As noted in the book, Chapter 5, there is a variety of ways in which cases may be disposed of without a court hearing – generically known as out-of-court disposals.

Since 2013, the Ministry of Justice has taken responsibility for policy developments in relation to out-of-court disposals. In April 2013, it issued guidance on the use of simple cautions; this was accompanied by a review of simple cautions, the results of which were published in September 2013. The Justice Secretary announced that, going forward, simple cautions would no longer be available for indictable only offences and certain serious either way offences involving possession of a knife, offensive weapon or firearm in a public place, offences involving child sex abuse or child pornography, and supplying Class A drugs. Exceptions will be made in certain cases and where a senior officer, as well as CPS if necessary, approves of their use.

In addition, the Secretary of State announced a more general review of the use of out-of-court disposals.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chris-grayling-simple-cautions-for-serious-offences-to-be-scrapped

For links to current guidance on out-of-court disposals, see http://www.justice.gov.uk/out-of-court-disposals

Written by lwtmp

October 22, 2013 at 11:04 am