Nearly 30,000 criminals “have escaped the justice system” in London by being given a caution rather than going to court, according to the Evening Standard. New figures show thousands of criminals, including rapists, robbers, and drug dealers, escaped with the so-called “slap on the wrist” reprimand last year.
Remarkably, amongst the total number of cautions, there were 1,356 for wounding or grievous bodily harm, 301 for drug dealing and 286 for sex offences, including two for rape. There were also 246 cautions for burglary and 107 for robbery.
Cautions are a legitimate way of getting criminals to admit to minor offences and keep them from clogging up the court system, but there are now worries that they are being dished out in cases that warrant more serious penalties.
In addition to this, there is a growing number of offenders who have multiple cautions, with 236 people having more than five. The figures show that the Metropolitan Police have increased the number of cautions given out over the last year, despite government demands to curb their use.
Critics claimed that the high level of caution use was taking away the rights of victims as criminals see their actions being dealt with in the “privacy of the police station” rather than in open court.
Tony Arbour, a Conservative London Assembly member who requested the figures, said: “The public can’t have confidence in a system where so many offenders are dealt with outside of court, just so that cases can be disposed of quickly.
“In effect, these people are being let off – some characters on more than five occasions. Cautions and fines should only be used as a warning the first time a criminal is caught.”
He called for a overhaul of the system, including the right of victims to know why police chose to issue a caution or a fine.
However, the Metropolitan Police defended their use of cautions saying: “A caution is a serious matter; they are not taken lightly and we are conscious of the consequences that this judicial disposal can have on a person’s future. It should also be recognised that they are used predominately to deal with first-time offenders and as an alternative to court appearance where guilt is admitted.”
Last year, the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper blamed police cuts for increases in the use of the caution. At the time she said: “Theresa May needs to answer urgently whether police cuts mean more criminals are being let off. Cautions should not be used for very serious offences,” she continued “we know that Government cuts of 15,000 officers are putting police forces under serious pressure.
“Is that why they are solving fewer crimes, and fewer criminals are being brought to justice? The Home Secretary should ask HMIC to do an urgent investigation into why fewer criminals are being caught and why so many cautions are being used for serious crimes.”
Whilst the government are keen to push the Police into sending more people to court they do face the dual problem of lack of capacity in the justice system and poor relations with the Police. Without changes in the law it can prove very hard for the government to compel the Police to do anything as they remain independent of direction control from Whitehall.