Why hundreds of crimes do not get dealt with in court
2:00pm Tuesday 5th March 2013 in News
HUNDREDS of crimes in Bolton that would previously have led to prosecutions are now being dealt with in a “common sense” approach without bringing them to court, new figures show.
Instead of lengthy and expensive court cases, almost 1,000 crimes committed in Bolton last year resulted in “restorative justice” solutions that are intended to focus on the victim instead of the criminal.
In hundreds of other cases, perpetrators are given police cautions.
Among those in Bolton last year were 11 sex offenders — one of whom was classed as a rapist — seven burglars and 23 drug traffickers.
The statistics also show 162 people who injured others through violence, 112 people who caused criminal damage or arson, 59 who engaged in public disorder, 20 fraudsters, 135 people who possessed drugs, 67 shoplifters, 39 thieves, seven burglars and 17 people who broke into or stole vehicles, were also given police cautions last year.
In total, there were 2,356 incidents in which someone admitted breaking the law but police and prosecutors decided not to take the case to court.
Of those, police issued 902 cautions, 285 on-the-spot fines, 261 street warnings and dealt with 909 incidents using restorative justice.
Senior officers stress that each criminal case is examined on an individual basis and that prosecution is not always the best way to ensure a criminal does not reoffend.
Among the sex offences dealt with by a police caution were cases in which both victims and perpetrators were young or vulnerable and police said taking them to court could cause distress to the victims.
Supt Phil Davies, one of Bolton’s most senior police officers, said: “Many factors are taken into consideration, including the nature of the offence, evidence, welfare and age.
“Prosecution before the courts is not always the right answer and sometimes an offender will receive a caution instead.”
The statistics alone do not always give a clear picture, he said, as, for example, domestic violence could include anything from a man beating his wife to a brother and sister arguing over the washing up and getting injured in a scuffle.
Supt Davies said there is growing evidence from the Ministry of Justice that restorative justice works, particularly for lower level offences and youth crime.
He added: “Restorative justice is not new — it has been around since the dawn of time.
“While we will never move away from punitive measures and locking up the criminals, restorative justice really does have a place in terms of how we get things done.
“We are using our common sense dealing with some issues out of court, while of course some things have to be dealt with in court.”
He said that the system gives victims more of a say on how criminals are dealt with, as well as making them directly accountable to the people they have harmed.
Supt Davies said: “In many instances, restorative justice enables offenders to come face-to-face with victims and see first-hand the effect that their crime has had.
“We often find that offenders show more remorse and are less likely to reoffend in the future than if they had been taken to court.”
Restorative justice can be used for serious crimes such as hate crime, sexual assault and domestic violence, Supt Davies said.
For example, if a 13-year-old sexually assaulted a 12-year-old, police may decide that advice and help is better than prosecution and labelling someone as a sex offender for the rest of their lives.
But Rape Crisis, a leading national charity, claims the decision not to prosecute rapists can never be correct.
The charity’s development co-ordinator, Jo Wood, said: “We find it extremely inappropriate that anyone, under any circumstances, could be cautioned for rape.
“These figures are shocking and deeply concerning.
“For the victim, this offence brings a life sentence, so it really shouldn’t matter how old the offender is in terms of whether or not it should be put forward to court.
“It seems that rape is being brought down to the level of littering and that is completely unacceptable and disgraceful.”