It is a cornerstone of Common Law that a person accused and charged has the right to be tried before a jury of his peers. Yet the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice announced on 24th November 2020, that the customary simple police caution system dating from the early nineteenth century should be scrapped in place of a rigid out-of-court charge involving “rehabilitation or compensation paid to the victim”. Once again, the government is unnecessarily attempting to undermine a centuries-old system which has served the country well.
This plan, which requires formal approval and has been supported by the National Police Chiefs’ Council is being sold as a mechanism to change offenders’ habits by imposing conditions.
An NPCC spokesman stated: “For offenders with complex needs, conditional out-of-court disposals offer an opportunity to engage with appropriate restorative and rehabilitative programs in the way that simple cautions do not”.
It is not explained who would decide whether an offender requires an “appropriate and rehabilitative program” and what qualifications they would need. It would also undermine the opportunity for public scrutiny which Courts provide. With growing witness reports of police now employing heavy-handed and even provocative tactics against peaceful protestors, the public perception of the police is damaged. Giving them the power of sentencing at this time would be a dangerous move, with a very real risk of breach of proper police standards and lasting damage to civil liberties.