Cautions for repeat offenders to be restricted

Police officer writing in a notebook
Image caption Ministers are to review the use of all out-of-court disposals

Criminals should no longer receive a second caution if they commit the same or a similar offence within a two-year period, new guidelines for police in England and Wales say.

The Ministry of Justice change relates to "simple cautions" given mainly for offences classed as "low level" such as shoplifting and criminal damage.

Ministers say two would only now be granted in "exceptional circumstances".

Police can use cautions instead of prosecuting if people admit offences.

They can also be given by the Crown Prosecution Service and apply to any offenders over the age of 10 if they admit a crime and agree to accept one.

But concerns have been raised that cautions are being used to deal with repeat offenders, contrary to advice, and the government pledged to clamp down on their over-use.

An MoJ examination of the system has now concluded that all types of out of court disposals should be reviewed by next spring.

As well as simple cautions, these include cautions with conditions attached, fixed penalty notices, warnings given to people for possession of cannabis, community resolutions and fixed penalty notices for disorder.

'Too complicated'

The MoJ said overall, the use of cautions issued to all ages of offenders fell from a peak of 362,900 in 2007 to 200,900 in 2012.

But its figures show that some 4,763 adults received two or more simple cautions in the two years to 31 March this year for similar offences.

In September, ministers announced that simple cautions for serious offences such as rape, robbery and supplying class A drugs would be banned.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "The current range of out of court disposals are confusing and the system is overly bureaucratic.

"They should be consistent, straightforward and something in which victims and the wider public can have confidence."

The review recommended there should be greater transparency with police, magistrates and victims' groups potentially checking to see cautions have been issued correctly.

The guidance also says criminals should only receive more than one simple caution in a two-year period in certain cases and only then when signed off by a police inspector.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said it recommended and supported the review of cautions.

But Chief Constable Lynne Owens from Acpo said: "It is important that there is room for officer discretion in any system to ensure the punishment is proportionate to the offence."

Labour welcomed the move but accused ministers of being too slow in addressing the issue.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: "In the three years it has taken the government to wake up to this problem, too many innocent victims of crime have been insulted by the slaps on the wrist given to criminals.

"Ministers denied there was even a problem. Then they insulted innocent victims, blaming the rise in cautions on their unwillingness to press charges. Now we have yet another review being launched."

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