Jack Straw orders review of police cautions after Panorama's Assault on Justice
Cautions for serious offences including burglary and rape may be a thing of the past thanks to a Panorama expose. Monday's programme, Assault on Justice, found half of criminal cases were dealt with using cautions in 2008, including almost 40,000 cases of assault.
On the day of the programme, Jack Straw announced a review into the use of cautions and their different regional use by police forces in England and Wales. "I understand the concerns that have been raised," he said and the Ministry of Justice released a statement later that day.
It's a good result for a programme that has had such a strong reaction from viewers who contacted us directly after the programme and discussed it in the blogosphere.
PCbloggs supports Jack Straw's review, albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek saying: "I seem to remember that a few people pointed out that maybe criminals should go to court when they commit crimes, and that they might not pay their fines or listen to warnings, and that the victims might not feel justice had been done."
However, he also suggests there could be reasons behind the statistics. "The most common use of the caution is when the victim has made a complaint and then refuses to follow it through by attending court or providing a written statement."
But the problem in using cautions as a form of 'instant justice' stands for Ramblings of a Scottish Student. "You essentially place the police and prosecutors in the position of judge, jury and executioner," he writes. "This form of justice is not done in public and is open to abuse, it ignores the essential separation of powers within the justice system to ensure that both victims and accused persons are treated fairly and respectfully."
But the overwhelming concern from viewers is saved for the victim, as expressed by Colette McAreavey who emailed the programme saying, "I have just watched your programme with a mixture of horror and disbelief. The penalties given were non-existent. A caution is a joke considering the severity of the assaults on all the victims featured in your piece. The police should not be judge and jury and the assaults you highlighted certainly merited, in my opinion, a custodial sentence. There was no justice for the victims, it was a total travesty. I have to say I felt very angry at how the victims were treated and congratulate you for bringing it not only to my attention but putting it in the public domain."
Jack Straw denies that cautions are being used to keep prison numbers down. His review into the use of cautions by the police should help ensure victims of serious crimes do get their day in court as all the people featured in the programme wanted.