18 May, 2017

Improvements made by Police’s use of out of court action – but victims’ views need more consideration

Improvements have been made in the way North Yorkshire Police use out of court disposals (OCDs) to deal with offenders, says new scrutiny report - but victims’ views still need more consideration.

Out of Court Disposals can provide simple, quick and proportionate ways for the force to deal with low-level offending by individuals, which avoids the use of court action and focuses on the needs and wishes of the victim.  For example, cautions, fixed penalty notices and community resolutions. Last year in North Yorkshire, the police used OCDs in 35% of crimes they resolved.

In 2014, Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, set up the Out of Court Disposal (OCD) Scrutiny Panel in response to public concerns about the use of disposals as a means of bringing offenders to justice.  The panel is chaired by Jonathan Mortimer, a solicitor and independent member of the public.

During the course of the last year, the panel reviewed a selection of cases in order to determine whether the method of disposal was considered appropriate, proportionate and lead to the right outcome for victims and offenders in line with national guidance and local policy.

This week, the panel published its second annual report which found that improvements had been made following the 2014-2015 review:

  • In 0.6% of cases, the police officer gave the OCD contrary to national guidelines, this is an improvement compared to 3.84% the previous year.
  • In 5% of cases the police exercised their discretion to impose an OCD inappropriately, a similar figure to 28% published in 2015.
  • In 4% of cases the panel was certain that the views of the victim had not been adequately taken into account, in 2015 the panel found that this was the case for 9.1%. However, the panel was unsure in 39% of cases reviewed in the current report as to whether the views of the victim had been taken into account properly according to the records available.
  • In 6% of cases the penalty imposed was not appropriate, a reduction compared to 8.15% in 2015.

Julia said: “I remain concerned victims’ views aren’t sought on every occasion, nor are those views always recorded well on police systems.  I will continue to keep a very close eye on this area of police business.”

Jonathan Mortimer said: “OCDs should not be used as an easy time-saving response to crime by the police. Their use must be proportionate and take into account the views of the victim.

“From what I and the panel have seen from our work over the last 12 months, I believe that the public can have confidence the system is being used appropriately by North Yorkshire Police. We have found some room for improvement, particularly as far as the victim is concerned and with careless driving offences, but it is clear that on the whole the system is being used correctly to deal with low-level offending here in North Yorkshire.”

The panel was pleased to find that there was a high level of satisfaction with the appropriate use of OCDs in accordance with the National Guidelines, that on the whole decisions by police officers as to whether to use OCDs, were exercised appropriately, and in most cases police officers are taking into account the views of the victim.

Julia added: “I’d like to thank panel members for their work over the past year. Their help in scrutinising Out of Court Disposals is important in providing the public with reassurance.  I am also very pleased we now have community members on the panel, as their opinions are invaluable in assessing whether or not the police’s decisions are in line with public expectations”.

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