This is the official blog of ex-Sgt Ellie Bloggs. I was a real live police constable then sergeant for twelve years, on the real live front line of England. I'm now a real live non-police person. All the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't (or didn't) pay my salary.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

"Hello Pot, It's Kettle - You're Black!" *

I am staggered to read today that more than half of crime is detected out of court. Since the introduction of what affectionately became known as "Triple S-J", or "Simple, Speedy, Summary Justice" in 2006, the Home Office has been shoving the police bodily towards out-of-court disposals for a wider and wider array of offences. It is therefore pretty disgraceful that we're only managing to dispose of 50% of offences that way.  By "we", in this case I mean West Mercia Constabulary, the latest "victim" of a Freedom of Information request by an anonymous magistrate.

What is perhaps more staggering is the fact that this has been reported as news.  The phenomenon is no newer than it was in 2010, or 2009.

The Magistrates Association is now up in arms, because the year on year rise in cautions and warnings is seen as the police "acting judge, juror and executioner" all in one.  (A more appropriate comparison might be to say that it's the police acting junior clark, rookie solicitor and probation officer all in one.)

Magistrates hate the idea of offences being dealt with out of court, as does a large proportion of the public.  The HMIC reported this year that a third of out-of-court disposals were found to be inappropriate - ie the offence was too severe or the offender not eligible to be warned/cautioned.

Yet the police continue to give out cautions like Halloween chocolate, the moment a whiff of an admission is detected.  In fact, it's the first question most solicitors ask when they arrive at the police station: "Is the custody sergeant considering a caution for my client?"

For a hardened wife-beater, car thief or fraudster, a caution is neither here nor there.  It has no effect on their lawless, unemployed life, and does absolutely nothing to repay the victim of their crime.  But in actual fact, cautions are not generally administered to this type of criminal.  The majority of repeat offenders DO go before the court, and to what end?

Magistrates fail to recognise that the majority of recidivist criminals who pass through police stations every day are unaffected whether they go to court or not.  Their diaries are peppered with bail dates, court appearances, probation appointments and baby-mother due dates, none of which they plan to turn up to anyway.  If they do make it behind the doors of the local Mags' Court, they will stroll out laughing a couple of hours later and flick the V sign at the victim who came to see them convicted.  Cautions are never handed out to these felons, and nor is any other kind of justice.

Cautions are reserved for those people who, far from deserving to be shoved before the court, probably don't deserve to be arrested in the first place.  Just occasionally, a first time wife-beater or drunken squaddie will be cautioned in what is probably an appropriate response to their first offence, expression of remorse, and lack of support from the victim.  But most cautions stem from jobs where officers turned up with their hands tied by local positive intervention strategies and senior management pressure in certain crime categories.  They're given out to ten-year-olds for antics in the park, neighbours for muttered swear-words, students for alcohol-induced stumbles that they would have paid for anyway. If you're a teacher or doctor, a criminal caution is a kiss of death.  You will never work with children again, in fact you'll be lucky if you can even babysit your next door neighbour's kids, or your own.

So the song and dance that Magistrates make about the world of out-of-court disposals is misdirected.  Instead of asking whether the police should have placed these people before the courts, they should be asking whether these people should be anywhere near the Criminal Justice System at all.  

I suggest that Magistrates concentrate on those who DO make it before their bench, and ask themselves why they keep coming back, if IN-court disposals are so effective.

SOON: this anonymous police officer plans to place Freedom of Information requests with her (or somebody's) local Magistrates' Court.  Any ideas anyone?

* For those of you offended by this caption, and who brand it a racist epithet, you may be interested to know that race crimes are considered an absolute priority in Blandmore at the moment.  A caution would not be issued for a racially aggravated offence, but if it were, I would lose my job immediately.  If that's not Simple, Speedy and Summary, I don't know what is.

'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.


Anonymous ginnersinner said...

They're actually dip-sampling cautions in our force area now, to see that the rules have been followed, namely a full and frank confession (I get the feeling that these are not always there) and supporting evidence (If the victim doesn't support a prosecution, there shouldn't be a caution, there should be an NFA). I NFAd a job just the other day where the OIC was asking for a caution - clearly thinking about the detection - when the suspect wasn't admitting the offence, he was offering one of the statutory defences which we couldn't disprove.
That having been said, weren't PNDs introduced precidely because we were clogging up the courts with too many people charged with minor offences?


The aims of the scheme are to:

offer operational officers a new, effective alternative means of dealing with low-level, anti-social and nuisance offending
deliver swift, simple and effective justice that carries a deterrent effect
reduce the amount of time that police officers spend on completing paperwork and attending court, while simultaneously reducing the burden on the courts
increasing the amount of time officers spend on the street and dealing with more serious crime and to free the courts to deal with more serious offending

07 November, 2011 19:51

Anonymous painauchocolat said...

Good post again Bloggsy. You can see why the public's opinion of the whole justice system is a poor one, when they see those who "know how to play the system" repeatedly acquitted (and a lot of people think a caution is an acquittal) yet those who don't know how to play the system get black marks on their character which - for those of us who decide to work for a living - can have serious consequences.

Unfortunately many people confuse the police with the whole justice system, when it's only the police's job to deliver people into the justice system.

Of course the press don't help...

07 November, 2011 20:25

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how last week it was a scare story about Tic's in the national media, and now this. Softening up the public for an announcement about police pensions anyone?

As usual, what is happening in Blandmore is happening in Ruralshire too. Going to Court is a pointless exercise. Might as well give them a Caution for all that will happen to them in Court.

07 November, 2011 21:58

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm FOI questions to ask a Magistrates court:

How many breached bail conditions have you simply removed 'because they are too difficult to comply with'?

How many bail addresses does the court actively check are suitable (ie task the police to confirm an address as suitable BEFORE setting it as one)?

In the last year what percentage of overnight prisoners that the police have asked to be remanded does your court then remand into custody?

First ideas but oh we could go on here and put the cat amongst them with the right question!

07 November, 2011 23:01

Anonymous ginnersinner said...

How many cases have been allowed to plead guilty to a charge lesser than that laid by police?

How many breached community service orders have been replaced by custodial sentences?

What percentage of defendants who are found/plead guilty and are under suspended sentences for previous convictions have had those sentences activated, and what proportion of the sentence has been applied? Likewise conditional discharges.

08 November, 2011 13:20

Anonymous Bagpuss said...

the bail addreses one is one I have come across. I recently had a case where my client had been assaulted by her husband. She got an injunction, and there were subsequently a number of breaches and he was also in court on criminal charges relating to the original assault.

He gave her home as his bail address and no one picked up on it, until she called the police to report him as having breached the injunction by turning up on the doorstep saying she had to let him in ...

I agree with Bloggsy that one issuie with FPNs and Cautions are that sometimes they are not keeping people out of the courts but are landing people wuith a record when they ought not to have any charge/caution/penalty at all.

I do think one gap is that most people don't really understadn what a caution is, or what effect it may have.

08 November, 2011 16:26

Blogger Anglegrindermonkey said...

How many magistrates have given a community sentence an offender who has gone on to injure or kill someone?

A percentage would be acceptable.

What percentage of those magistrates (who have fucked up) have been placed before a disciplinary panel of senior judges and had to defend their actions?

08 November, 2011 17:21

Anonymous NottsSarge said...

Don't forget the 'Conditional Caution' Bloggsy. Sitting somewhere in the Restorative Justive realm, the idea was to avoid 'major' criminalisation for minor offences, on the proviso that the offender makes amends. Little Johnny smashes a window, has to pay for it, gets a caution. Everyone is delighted with this, except for the OIC who has to do more work than for a 'simple' caution and near enough as much work as it would take to raise a full prosecution file.
Reducing bureacracy AND restorative justice? Not happening

08 November, 2011 18:22

Anonymous ginnersinner said...

Anglegrinder, I can tell you now the answer to yours - none. They don't consider it a 'fuck-up', they'll just use the 'we just sentence them within the guidelines, we can't be responsible for what they do afterwards' line. Funny how we can't get away with that - if we don't nick someone in time, or give them conditional bail instead of remand (even if that's what the court would have done) we get crucified if they re-offend. Doesn't exactly seem fair does it?

09 November, 2011 10:06

Anonymous plice jobs said...

Its just sad at how everything is the way they are

10 November, 2011 12:56

Anonymous Sgt Knothead said...

My latest conditional discharde was a right mess.

Mrs Knothead kvetched like crazy because she had to clean up afterwards.

10 November, 2011 22:22

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We now give out RJ's for assaults, racial crime, thefts, criminal damage etc for first time offences, all detected crimes with no work required Horrray

14 November, 2011 23:15

Blogger Bystander said...

The stats for court disposals are open to all on the MoJ website - no need to bother with FoI.

JPs can't make it up as they go along. However weak it may sound, we 'must' follow guidelines in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

Many of us are deeply unimpressed with CJSSS,but it's a fact of life.

15 November, 2011 22:16

Anonymous Anonymous said...

PceeBloggs - You're right about 'cautions' being given to people who don't understand. I think people are used to the phrase 'let off with a caution'. Infact, there's a criminal record! A 'caution' should be re-named. Most people who receive a caution shouldn't. Either a proper caution ie 'warning' or for more serious offences they should be prosecuted.

As for penalty notices, people who recieve them are informed they are not a criminal record but they still might turn up on a CRB check. So might any arrest but obviously a PND is worse than no police action.
I think people offered a PND for something trivial like drunk and disorderly should dare the CPS to prosecute them. All the time and money on a p***head you could have just done with a night in the cells.

18 December, 2011 14:58


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