Friday, January 12, 2007

Has anyone under 16 in your family been given an Official Police Caution?

I am interested to hear from anyone who has a child who has been given what is called an Official Police Caution.

I would be especially interested in any case where the youth or child was involved in a relatively minor incident at school that ended up with Police involvement.

Police Cautions are increasingly being used in cases where in the past the matter would have been dealt with by the school issuing a routine punishment such as a detention.

The matter came to my interest when the 12 year old child of some friends was involved in a schoolboy scrap. To his parents surprise the Police were informed - although like me they expected the Police to have better things to do than become involved in playground disputes.

Far from it, the next thing was their son was being interviewed by two police officers.

The net result was that -as their son was not denying events and admitted that he had been involved in the fight- the police offered to close the matter after issuing an official Reprimand - which is a letter from the Chief Constable, basically.

How kind, thought the parents, until I found out for them that t
he boys name and offence have been placed on the Police National Computer. His reprimand for a "violent crime" will also remain on the separate Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) database.

A reprimand for a minor offence stays on police records for five years, but it remains on CRB checks indefinitely; which means that in future he could find difficulty in any situation requiring a police check (these days such benign passtimes as being a Parish Councellor require a police check).

Police defend their decision, officials say that if someone makes a complaint or reports an alleged criminal offence to the police they are obliged by the Government's crime recording standards to record the offence and investigate it.

What they don't so readily admit is that 'offences' dealt with in this way (with a written reprimand) are subsequently counted as a 'case closed' and also then count towards police clear-up rate targets.

So not only have the police become a self appointed judge and jury but they have a positive incentive to get involved in twelve-year-old schoolboy playground incidents because they can get a 'quick win' without a messy and long court case.

In the meantime -because the police can only issue a reprimand in cases where the 'offence' is not denied- honest and repentant kids get a criminal record where those who don't own up often get off because the cases aren't usually worth taking to court.

How fair is that?


Claire Palmer said...

This is a real issue, and you are right to pick up on it. As a criminal defence barrister, I have ended up in court on a 2 day GBH trial for a playground scrap that led to some bruising and a small cut!
Whilst it is important that bullying is stopped and nipped in the bud, it is also important to consider what the effects of reprimands and warnings will be on young people's futures.

The police are under no obligation to offer a reprimand, and could decide to deal with the matter just by an informal discussion with the child and parents. In the same way as the CPS have to decide whether it is in the public interest to charge someone, so to should that be applied to decisions on cautions.

The situation is made worse by the fact that often the Police will play down the seriousness of the interview, leading to the parent opting to not exercise the right to free legal advice, and then the Police can give a caution!

I hope things are going well for you in Torbay.

Anonymous said...

Could I ask you please Marcus whether or not you would be defending the boy in question so vehemently if he were not the son of some of your friends? This to me smacks of hypocrisy - I doubt very much that you would have the same opinion if it was a schoolyard bully attacking one of your children. I believe that if that were the case you yourself might well be down at the police station demanding that the police deal with the issue. Or is this just a way of extending Cameron's 'hug a hoodie' campaign to carry favour with your leader? You must realise that sometimes the police are the only option - teachers do not have the same rights as once they did. They have all of the responsibilities without any means by which to carry them out. A detention? Hardly the punishment for a violent attack, especially when more often than not the parents of said child will withdraw their child from the detention on the grounds that they find it impossible to believe their little darlings could be capable of such disgraceful behaviour.

Marcus Wood said...

Anonymous, I am not defending the boy or his behaviour which was reprehensible; nor am I neccessarily critical of the parents for going to the police.

What I am highlighting is the unfairness in the way these matters are dealt with.

By issuing an 'official' reprimand two important things occur that most people are completely unaware of.

1) The police get nearer achieving their clear-up rate target.
2) The child accumilates a record that can last indefinitely.

For both to happen the child has to have admitted their 'crime'; with no advice as to the consequences.

Thus a playground disciplinary matter immediately becomes a serious legal matter; with a serious outcome; yet without the opportunity of a fair hearing in some kind of trial/tribunal.

As an adult you wouldn't accept this and neither would I.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to have a CRB check to become a parish/town councillor.

Pugwash said...

We've just been on the other end of this idea. In the last few months, a 10 year old girl has punched, kicked and pushed a lit cigarette into our young boy's face. The police tell us that because the girl is not old enough to be accountable for her actions, she can't be charged with assault. Last night the police phoned me to say that she had finally been interviewed, admitted assault and been officially reprimanded. I call that the best result we could expect.

Marcus Wood said...

A shocking story Pugwash; but sadly becoming all too common.

Our legal system is in disarray - on the one hand kids are growing up younger than when we were kids, yet on the other hand we are terrified of accepting this fact, especially as far as sexual behaviour is concerned.

So we have the wrong laws to deal with the wrong problems in the wrong way.

I actually think that the whole area of 'child' crime needs looking at; clearly some 10 years olds are old enough to be criminally aware these days.

In this case I still wonder whether taking Police action against a 10 year old is the right answer; will it prevent the same thing happening again? - personally I doubt it.

What about better discipline in schools and, the old question, where were/are the girls parents?