On Conservative Home last year the Conservative MP Nick de Bois expressed concern at the widespread use of police cautions. These would apply even to serious offences. pathetically there would be repeated cautions for repeat offenders – leaving the victims in a state of despair.
Mr de Bois wrote:
“As the name suggests, cautions were introduced so that they could be given as a final warning. However, in an internal memo from then Labour Home Secretary John Reid (now Lord Reid), the police were directed to give serial criminals repeated cautions rather than despatch them to court. The note, titled “Simple Cautioning of Adult Offenders” also advised that any offender caught committing multiple crimes in a single incident could still be eligible for a caution, and anyone caught committing the same “trivial” offence could again be let off with just a caution – providing two years had passed between each offence.
“This meant that a thief could quite easily receive up to five cautions in ten years without ever having their day in court; and instead of adding all of their crimes together to create a picture of a serious prolific offender, each would be treated separately.”
This morning comes the news that the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is planning to scrap the current system. Mr Grayling says that victims should not feel that criminals are “walking away scot-free”. With the new arrangement offenders would make good damage they have done or pay compensation for less serious crimes. Those who commit more serious offences would face court if they fail to comply with conditions set out by police.
The new system will be trialled for a year in the Staffordshire, West Yorkshire and Leicestershire police force areas. But the clear intention is for it to be introduced across England and Wales.
This would mean that even for “minor” offences there would be consequences – not just a warning. The details will be important. Magistrates and the police will wish the changes to provide greater clarity and less bureaucracy.
Mr Grayling says:
“It isn’t right that criminals who commit lower-level crime can be dealt with by little more than a warning.
“It’s time we put an end to this country’s cautions culture. I think every crime should have a consequence, and this change will deliver that.
“Under the new system we are introducing, offenders will face prosecution if they fail to comply with the conditions set by the police, so that no one is allowed to get away with the soft option.”
Labour’s response has been muddled. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan complains that “too many criminals have been getting away with serious crimes” by cautions being “dished out” – but the number “dished out” for serious crimes was 4,273 in 2010 but down to 2,680 in 2013.
This announcement confirms Mr Grayling as one of the cabinet’s strong reformers. It is welcome at a stage in the Parliament when the Government is accused of running out of steam. Mr Grayling is taking a strong stand on the side of the victims against their tormentors.