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20 June 2019

Community Resolutions: Commendable not Condemnable

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By Sangeeta Bedi

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Diversion from prosecution has long been an important facet of the English criminal justice system, and there now exists a range of out of court disposals from informal warnings through to conditional cautions. Police forces across England and Wales have been increasingly exercising their discretion to address offending by way of community resolution; this being an umbrella term for a variety of informal disposals, which include, amongst other outcomes, the issuing of warnings, the requirement to make reparation and rehabilitation.[1]  Being an informal method of disposal, unlike a police caution, community resolutions do not criminalise those who are dealt with in this fashion, and such a disposal will not appear on a standard DBS check, albeit it might appear as ‘relevant information’ on an enhanced DBS check.

Guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (“NPCC”) provides that community resolutions should only be used for “lower level crime or incident,” this being defined as “summary only offences” or “some either way offences which would be tried in the Magistrates’ Court.[2] The inference from the NPCC guidance is that an officer may exercise their discretion to use a community resolution where the Magistrates’ Court would accept jurisdiction.[3] The NPCC guidance further suggests that a disposal by way of community resolution is available for all types of offending inclusive of sexual offences, violence and knife crime; the only exception being offences of domestic violence perpetrated against an intimate partner.[4]

It emerged in June 2019 that there had been disposals by way of community resolution for a range of serious offences including rape, burglary, possession of weapons and sexual offences against children. For the large part, the derision aimed at the police as a result of these revelations is certainly unfair. Whilst NPCC guidance does identify that community resolutions may be appropriate for “lower level crime,” the same guidance would also suggest that an either way offence attracting a sentence of six months’ custody or less would also be an appropriate scenario in which to utilise such a disposal.  It is therefore unsurprising that even those offences regarded as being “serious” were dealt with by way of community resolution; burglary, actual bodily harm and possession of bladed articles can all attract sentences below that of the NPCC’s six-month point of demarcation.[5]

Whilst indictable only offences would not qualify for the use of community resolutions according to the NPCC, the guidance notes that officers should be allowed “some discretion to do the right thing in the circumstances.”[6]  In responding to the media reporting of police use of community resolutions, the NPCC noted that of the sexual offences disposed of by way of community resolution, “the majority in this bracket relate to sexual offences between children and young people, which [would be classified] as peer on peer – where [there are] juveniles who are in relationships but are not yet at the age of consent.[7] It is unclear as to whether the 27 instances of rape that were disposed of by way of community resolution would be of the type identified by the NPCC. However, if so, to criminalise such persons would be an unjust outcome and a community resolution entirely proportionate.

In summary, disposal by way of community resolution offers the police a flexible method of addressing offending behaviour without recourse to prosecution and the damaging stigma that accompanies such an outcome. Where the police have been criticised for disposing of “serious offending” by way of community resolution, the police have simply followed the guidance issued to them. Rather than criticising the police, they should be commended for taking a proactive and proportionate approach to dealing with offenders against whom a prosecution would result in an unjust and unsatisfactory outcome for both the individual and society.

[1] Charging and Out of Court Disposals: A National Strategy, Annex B Adult Out of Court Framework

[2] Charging and Out of Court Disposals: A National Strategy, Annex B Adult Out of Court Framework

[3] See the Sentencing Council’s guidance on allocation

[4] Charging and Out of Court Disposals: A National Strategy, Annex B Adult Out of Court Framework

[5] See the Sentencing Council’s Magistrates’ Court Definitive Guidelines

[6] Charging and Out of Court Disposals: A National Strategy, Annex B Adult Out of Court Framework, Page 41

[7] https://news.npcc.police.uk/releases/response-to-media-reporting-of-police-use-of-community-resolutions

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