Press release

Clampdown on cautions for repeat offenders

Criminals should no longer be able to receive a second caution for the same, or similar, offence committed in a two year period Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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New guidance issued today by the Ministry of Justice to the police sets out that criminals should not get more than one ‘simple’ caution in a two year period for the same, or similar offence, except for in exceptional circumstance and if it is signed off by an Inspector.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

“There are a small group of persistent offenders who commit the same offences time and time again, some of whom rack up a string of cautions. This does not deliver justice for victims.

“We are on the side of people who work hard and want to get on - that is why we are working with the police to make sure people who break the law will not escape the law.

“The police work extremely hard to deliver justice day-in day-out. The current range of out of court disposals are confusing and the system is overly bureaucratic, that is why we are reviewing all out of court disposals. They should be consistent, straightforward and something in which victims and the wider public can have confidence.”

Last year nearly 5000 criminals received two or more cautions for committing the same, or similar, offences in a two year period. This would mean an offender who receives a simple caution for shoplifting should not get another simple caution for further theft-related offences within a two year period. The changes apply to adult offenders. Primary legislation will follow in the New Year.

This follows the recent review of ‘simple’ cautions. It found that simple cautions were largely administered appropriately but that there was some public concern about their use, that changes were needed to simplify the regime, and that all out of court disposals should be reviewed.

The Government has already decided to ban the use of simple cautions for the most serious offences (known as indictable only) including rape and robbery and a range of other ‘either way’ offences (crimes which can be tried either in the Magistrates’ or Crown Courts). These serious either way offences include possession of any offensive weapon, supplying Class A drugs and a range of sexual offences against children.

The simple cautions review also recommended that there should be greater transparency in the use of such cautions with local experts - potentially including the police, magistrates or the victims’ groups - retrospectively scrutinising the use of cautions in each area. They will check that cautions have been used correctly and will report back to local police or the Police and Crime Commissioner who will take action if required.

Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims Minister Damian Green said:

“The police do an incredibly important job and often have to make difficult decisions on the spot. The updated guidance makes clear that cautions are not suitable for the most serious crimes and for repeat offenders.

“Victims must know that offenders will be dealt with appropriately. The current police guidance for dealing with crimes on-the-spot has evolved over time and is totally disjointed, no wonder we see a dramatic variation in their use.

“That is why we are clamping down on the use of cautions and reviewing the whole spectrum of out of court disposals so we have clarity and consistency and most importantly we have a system that victims and the public have confidence in.”

Chief Constable Lynne Owens said:

“It is in everyone’s interests that the justice system is as simple and clear to understand as possible. The current range of out of court disposals is too complicated and bureaucratic; we recommended and support its review.

“It is important that there is room for officer discretion in any system to ensure the punishment is proportionate to the offence. I’m pleased that the Simple Cautions Review showed that where discretion is being used it is being done so properly, and in my view this is important to maintain.”

The review of all out of court disposals launched today will be conducted in partnership between the Ministry of Justice and the police, and in conjunction with the Home Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service. The review will gather the views of practitioners, victims’ organisations and the judiciary, including the magistracy, as well as the legal community. It will look at all current adult out of court disposals which include simple cautions, conditional cautions, fixed penalty notices, penalty notices for disorder, cannabis warnings and community resolutions. The review will conclude in spring 2014.

Notes to editors:

  • 4,763 adult offenders received two or more cautions committing the same, or similar, offence in the previous two year period (data for 12 months ending 31 March 2013).

  • Review the ‘Consultation on out of court disposals’ and here

  • View guidance on out of court disposals

  • Out of Court Disposals - The use of out of court disposals overall (which includes simple and conditional cautions, cannabis warnings and Penalty Notices for Disorder) has decreased by 42 per cent since 2007 (from 647,600 to 377,300 in 2012). The decline in the use of out of court disposals coincided with the replacement in April 2008 of a target to increase offences brought to justice, with one placing more emphasis on bringing serious crime to justice. The latter target was subsequently removed in May 2010.

  • Cautions - the use of cautions (issued to all ages of offender) has declined by 45 per cent from a peak of 362,900 in 2007 to 200,900 in 2012.

  • Simple Caution - an out of court disposal given by the police to adult criminals when specified criteria are met. It is designed to be used for low-level offending. There were 168,300 cautions (including conditional cautions) issued to adults in 2012.

  • Conditional Caution - an out of court disposal for adults with set conditions attached to it with which the offender must comply. If an offender fails without reasonable excuse to comply with the conditions attached to a conditional caution he or she may be prosecuted for the offence for which the conditional caution was originally given. The rules around conditional cautions are set out in law in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Published 14 November 2013