Clause 86 - Giving a community caution

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 10th June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 87 to 93 stand part.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Rather like the previous group of clauses, which implemented the diversionary cautions, clauses 86 to 93 lay out the details of the proposed scheme for community cautions, implementing the principles that we have already debated pursuant to clause 76. As I did a few minutes ago, I will go through each clause quickly.

Clause 86 specifies the criteria for giving a community caution. It must be given by an authorised person to someone over the age of 18. The clause specifies the key safeguards whereby an authorised person or prosecuting authority can authorise the use of the caution: establishing sufficient evidence to charge, and an admission of guilt from the offender, who signs and accepts the caution and understands the effect of non-compliance. That mirrors precisely the provisions of clause 77, which we discussed a few minutes ago.

Clause 87 establishes the type of conditions that can be attached, specifying that they should be rehabilitative or reparative—that is very important for the reasons that we have already discussed. It requires that reasonable efforts are made to ascertain victims’ views.

Clause 88 introduces the permissible rehabilitation and reparation conditions, which must have the objective of facilitating rehabilitation in those cases. The clause provides that such conditions may be restricted in some cases and contain unpaid work conditions or attendance conditions.

Clause 89—again, mirroring the previous group—introduces the financial penalty condition. Clause 90 provides the framework for registering and enforcing financial penalties as part of this regime.

Clause 91 provides a framework for court proceedings arising from the enforcement of the financial penalty, essentially to ensure that it gets paid if someone does not pay it. Clause 92 introduces a method for an authorised person or prosecuting authority to vary the conditions, which, again, mirrors the previous group of clauses.

Clause 93 deals with the effect of community cautions where criminal proceedings may not be instituted against the offender for the offence. In particular, if the offender fails to comply with the condition under community caution without a reasonable excuse, the condition may be rescinded and a financial penalty order may be imposed instead, so the consequence of breach here is financial penalty rather than prosecution.

I hope that gives the Committee adequate oversight of the effect of clauses 86 to 93.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Although we were on relatively familiar ground with the new diversionary cautions, the community cautions, on which clauses 86 to 93 set out the detail, are very different from the lower-tier out-of-court disposals currently in use. In fact, they are much more similar to the existing conditional cautions that the diversionary cautions are already designed to replace. There are lots of cautions here—cautions and cautions and cautions.

I spoke earlier about our concerns about the necessity of attaching conditions to the community cautions, so I will not tread the same ground again, but that is an important point. We very much support the simplification of the out-of-court disposal system and the introduction of the two-tier framework, but why are the Government introducing two tiers that are so similar? We should be able to get rid of the confusion of the current system of six out-of-court disposals without so severely restricting the choices of police officers who deal with such a wide range of low-level offending for which a range of penalties may be appropriate.

I understand that the community caution is intended to replace the community resolution. There are two major differences between the two. A community caution will be formally administered by the police, like other cautions, so it will appear on an offender’s criminal record in the same way that other cautions do. There will be a clear statutory rule about the conditions that can be attached to it. That is quite a jump from the community resolution. Community resolutions are voluntary agreements between the police and an accused person. They do not appear on an offender’s criminal record, and the actions agreed to are not legally enforceable.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Again, on the impact on the black and minority ethnic community, I wonder what thoughts my hon. Friend has on the fact that this would appear on their record if they were to be served a community caution.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

My colleague is right to raise the issue of disproportionality in the system. Anything that increases that is not good for us as a country and is certainly not good for the young people involved. It is important that the Government bear that in mind as they bring the measure forward. More importantly, as I said, the Government can get into a situation where they recognise that communities—ethnic minority communities, call them what we will—need to have an understanding of the changes that the Government are proposing, so that we do not find more young people, young black men in particular, with criminal records when that is not necessary.

Secondly, the community cautions will now involve financial penalties. Officers will be able to attach a fine to a community caution as a punitive condition. Failure to meet any of the conditions, including a financial penalty condition, could result in a police-issued fine. Again, that would be quite a departure from the community resolution. Offenders might be asked to pay damages to their victims as part of a resolution, but community resolutions are not used to fine individuals.

Will the Minister tell me, therefore, whether the intention is to replace the community resolution entirely with community cautions? I ask, because Transform Justice has rightly called for some clarity in this area:

“The status of community resolutions under the proposed legislation is not clear. Clause 96 ‘Abolition of other cautions and out-of-court disposals’ states that ‘No caution other than a diversionary or community caution may be given to a person aged 18 or over who admits to having committed an offence’. We are unsure what this means for community resolutions, although we understand the intention is that they will remain available to police if they wish to use them.

Given the value of community resolutions, as an out of court disposal that does not require a formal admission of guilt, the legislation and accompanying regulation should make clear in Clause 96 that use of community resolutions will not be prohibited under the new framework.”

I have already discussed our concerns about the need for a formal admission of guilt for the community caution and the potential that has to deepen disproportionality in our criminal justice system. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate just raised that issue. We all know that there are benefits to having a light-touch disposal to deal with low-level offending in some cases where appropriate. Keeping people out of the formal justice system at this level can help keep them out of it for good and so I wonder whether the Minister thinks that we might be losing a helpful method of disposal here. Finally, how does he anticipate that the low-level offences that benefited from community resolutions before will now be handled?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the shadow Minister for his speech and his questions. For clarity, in answer to his principal question, the community resolution will still be available to use. It will not be removed by the Bill. As he said, community resolutions have conditions attached to them, but they do not require the admission of guilt— they simply require someone to take responsibility—and, should the conditions not be adhered to, there is in essence no consequence to follow that.

That low-level entry provision will therefore still exist and be available to police officers to use. Because that will still exist, it is appropriate to pitch the community cautions—the ones we are debating—somewhere in between the community resolution, which will remain, and the diversionary caution that we just debated. That is why it is pitched where it is.

There are three principal differences between the diversionary caution and the community caution. The first is on disclosure. We will talk about this when we consider an amendment later, but the community caution is not disclosable in a criminal record check and so on from the moment that the condition ceases, whereas for the diversionary caution a spending period goes beyond that.

The second difference is that, as the shadow Minister said, the consequence of breaching the community caution is the imposition of a fine, whereas for the diversionary caution it can lead to substantive prosecution. Thirdly, the range of offences is somewhat different.

I hope that reassures the shadow Minister that the community resolution will remain—it is not being abolished—and therefore we have a sensible hierarchy of provisions available for the police to choose from. I hope that provides him with the reassurance that he was asking for.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 86 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 87 to 93 ordered to stand part of the Bill.