September 12, 2012

Proceed with Caution: Use of Out-of-Court Disposals in England & Wales


New analysis by Policy Exchange shows that there is widespread and inconsistent use of out-of-court disposals such as cautions and penalty notices. Proceed with Caution also finds that some serious offenders are escaping justice by avoiding prosecution or because many simply do not pay a penalty notice.

Analysis of 2011 Ministry of Justice data shows that despite peaking in 2007, the total number of out-of-court disposals issued in 2011 was still 68% higher than in 2003 and in some circumstances, cautions are being used in response to serious offences. Data from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to 43 police forces across England and Wales showed that 828 cautions were handed out in 2011 for three very serious (or “indictable-only”) offences – robbery, grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent, and racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage – that should almost always be heard in Crown Court.

The paper calls for a shake-up of the criminal justice system to prevent inappropriate and erratic use of cautions and penalty notices and to bring greater transparency and accountability to the regime for out-of-court disposals.


Karen Sosa

Crime & Justice Research Fellow, 2011-2013

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