‘Slap on wrist’ for repeat offenders

Keith Vaz MP
Keith Vaz MP
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PERSISTENT offenders are escaping court justice as some police forces settle for just “a slap on the wrists,” MPs have warned.

A postcode lottery for securing convictions in court has emerged as figures show how some forces are reliant on out-of-court disposals, a system of police cautions initially intend for small-scale crimes.

The Home Affairs select committee today warns that “too many serious offences and persistent offenders given just a slap on the wrist”.

The committee said that while out of court settlements can save the police time and administrative cost, allowing officers to spend more time on the frontline, they “must not be used by police merely as a time-saving tool”.

MPs on the committee say there is an urgent need for scrutiny panels to be established in all police force areas, so that decisions to use the cautions are reviewed “for appropriateness and consistency across the country”.

Figure released by the committee show Yorkshire’s police forces appear to take a tougher stance with criminals.

West Yorkshire Police had the lowest rate of let-offs in the country, with just 26 per cent of offenders receiving an out of court settlement.

For North Yorkshire the figure was 29 per cent, although in South yorkshire the figure was as high as 35 per cent.

Gwent was the worst police force for using out of court disposals, with 49 per cent of all cases not making it to court.

Mr Vaz said: “The inappropriate use of out of court disposals to deal with serious offences is unacceptable. It is alarming that they are not being used in the correct way in up to 30 per cent of cases.

“This has damaged public confidence in the police’s ability to tackle low level offending.

“Forces have been allowed to interpret guidance on out of court disposals in their own way, resulting in a postcode lottery across the UK in the way crimes are dealt with.

“It cannot be right that while an offence committed in Cumbria would go to court, in Gloucestershire it may be dealt with by a caution. We need a new out of courts disposal system which is a clear, escalatory process.”

Mr Vaz added: “The public deserve to feel reassured that their local police forces are not tackling serious crimes with a slap on the wrist.”