Thousands of robbers and rapists let off with cautions, despite guidelines that they should only be given for minor offences
04:26 GMT, 2 December 2012
More than half a million criminals have been let off with warnings for serious offences including rape, burglary and arson.
Official figures revealing the full scale of the problem show more than 400 sex offenders who admitted rape or attempted rape over the past 15 years walked free after being given a caution by police.
Over the same period more than 90,000 burglaries, almost 8,000 serious assaults and 7,000 robberies were dealt with by cautions, along with more than 500,000 acts of vandalism and arson attacks.
Cautions are supposed to be given out by police only for minor, first-time offences and usually to young people. They are popular with police as they count towards solved crimes and can be disposed of quickly
The out-of-court penalty does not count as a conviction, does not have to be disclosed to employers and means their victim does not see justice done in court. Thousands are still being handed out each year despite senior politicians, legal figures and watchdogs repeatedly calling for serious offenders to be taken to court.
The Lord Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary have all expressed concern at the number of out-of-court penalties being handed out and the drop in cases going before juries. The Magistrates’ Association has also warned that it risks police enforcing the law and deciding on the punishment as well.
Andy Slaughter, Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister, who obtained the statistics, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘There is a place for cautions in the criminal justice system but it is inappropriate to use them for very serious crimes and where the offences should come before a court. The whole effect undermines the system of justice being seen to be done.’
Nick de Bois, Conservative MP for Enfield
North, who sits on the Justice Select Committee, said: ‘Most
decent-minded people will find it hard to understand how rape or
attempted rape can ever justify a caution.’
WHAT ARE CAUTIONS
Cautions are supposed to be given out by police only for minor, first-time offences and usually to young people.
They are intended to allow police to clear up crimes quickly, cutting down on paperwork and court time while giving the offender the message that they have broken the law.
They are popular with police as they count towards solved crimes and can be disposed of quickly. But official guidelines from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) say cautions should be given for the worst crimes only in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
The Justice Minister, Jeremy Wright, said: ‘Guidance to police and prosecutors is clear that cautions for serious offences must be used only in exceptional circumstances and that their use for the most serious offences, those that would otherwise be dealt with in the Crown Court, must always be authorised by the CPS.’
Between 1997 and 2011, 651,589 of the most serious crimes were dealt with by means of a caution with 458 offences of rape and attempted rape disposed of with a caution, the majority being handed to juveniles.
Of the 1.91 million individuals dealt with by the criminal justice system in the 12 months to June this year, 212,000 were given cautions. A further 115,000 got on-the-spot fines.
In 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available, 19 rapes and attempted rapes in England and Wales ended with a caution.
An Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman said: ‘Cautions for an offence as serious as rape require exceptional circumstances. It must be sanctioned by the CPS.
'Any case that is referred to the CPS by police seeking authorisation for a caution will be very carefully considered. No caution can be administered without the police agreeing that it is appropriate in each case and where a serious offence has been alleged authorisation will only be given in the most exceptional circumstances.
'Any such case must be considered on its own facts and merits, taking into account the views of the victim or their family.
'A caution in relation to an alleged sex offence would most likely relate to youths engaged in under age sexual activity.'
CPS would take into account views and welfare of victims, the likely punishment a court might impose, the public interest in prosecuting and whether the administering of a caution can be justified in the circumstances.
The Sentencing Council will this week
publish proposals to update guidelines on how police and courts should
deal with sexual offences.