Chris Grayling scraps simple cautions for serious offences
Serious offenders will no longer pay for their crimes with just a caution, the justice secretary has announced.
Chris Grayling said he was scrapping the use of simple cautions in England and Wales for crimes such as rape, manslaughter and robbery.
Last year, 493 cautions were issued for crimes that would have been heard at crown court if they had gone to trial.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said cautions for such crimes were used in exceptional circumstances.
However, Mr Grayling said that the fact some of the most serious crimes resulted in "just a slap of the wrist" was "unacceptable and unfair".
Simple cautions, issued at the discretion of police, are an immediate way to deal with people who commit an offence and admit guilt.
They were designed to be used for low-level offending. They do not result in any punishment or rehabilitation and offenders do not have to go to court.
However, it is added to an offender's criminal record and can be used for reference in any future criminal proceedings.
The other type of caution is a conditional caution, which has conditions attached to it that an offender must comply with or face prosecution for the original offence.
All cautions will be brought to a prospective employer's attention if an individual's criminal record is checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service.
Weapons and prostitution
Mr Grayling announced on Sunday that police guidance will be amended in England and Wales so simple cautions will no longer be available for indictable-only offences - the most serious offences that cannot be tried at magistrates' court, only crown court.
Simple cautions will also be scrapped for other offences, including possession of any offensive weapon, supplying or procuring Class A drugs, child prostitution and pornography and possession or supply of indecent photographs of children.
Currently, simple cautions can be signed off by officers at sergeant rank, although the Crown Prosecution Service is consulted when cautions are given for indictable-only offences.
Only in the most exceptional circumstances can simple cautions be given for serious offences - and they have to be signed off by senior police officers not below the rank of superintendent.
Mr Grayling's announcement follows a review announced in April.
Speaking ahead of the Conservative Party conference, he said: "Last year nearly 500 offenders who admitted committing some of the most serious crimes escaped with just a slap on the wrist.
"Quite simply this is unacceptable and unfair on victims. That is why I am scrapping simple cautions for all of the most serious offences and a range of other offences that devastate lives and tear apart communities.
"Alongside this, the home secretary and I are launching a review into the use of all out-of-court disposals - their use can be inconsistent, confusing and something the public, and victims, have little confidence in."
Out-of-court disposals include cautions and a range of penalty notices, such as cannabis warnings, conditional cautions and penalty notices for disorder (PND).
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) was one of the partners that worked with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on the review.
Acpo's lead on out-of-court disposals, Lynne Owens said: "Today's announcement has reinforced both the importance of discretion and the responsibility for oversight when simple cautions are being used in indictable only offences.
"We also fully support the conclusion that the most serious cases should always be heard in court.
"It should be noted that the use of simple cautions for indictable-only offences represent a fraction of 1% of the total issued. Therefore the police service would take the view that these are only used in exceptional circumstances currently."
Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Damian Green said it was important for the use of simple cautions for serious offences to be clamped down on for the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system.
"Simple cautions can be an appropriate way for the police to deal with low-level offending. However they are not suitable for criminals who commit serious offences like rape or robbery which can ruin victims' lives," he said.
The chief executive of the charity Victim Support, Javed Khan, said that for victims it was important the punishment fitted the crime and "for that response to be sufficient to make sure the offender doesn't commit offences again".
He added: "Although it is ultimately up to the police to decide on when to give a caution, victims must have decisions clearly explained to them. Without these they may lose confidence in the police and other criminal justice agencies.
"The police need to be clear on when a caution is appropriate - for example, it is most unlikely to be right for most violent and sexual offences."
When the review was announced in April, the chairman of the Magistrates' Association, John Fassenfelt, said his group had been appealing to the government for about four years to deal with the issue of cautions.
He said that one reason for the use of cautions could be that they are "cheaper" for police as "they don't have to prepare so much paperwork to bring it to court."
There were 167,758 simple cautions issued to adults in 2012, according to MoJ figures.
Among those, there were 962 cautions for possession of knives, 1,543 for possession of weapons, seven for child pornography and prostitution, 1,560 for cruelty to or neglect of children, 268 for possessing indecent photographs of children and 54 for supplying or offering to supply Class A drugs.