- Brief overview of Out of Court Disposal (OOCD) arrangements in Northants
In January 2020 Northants Police moved to a two-tier approach in relation to Out of Court Disposals. Before the move to “two tier” there were several alternatives to formal charges available to police and CPS when dealing with adults and youths who have committed relatively low serious offences. These include cannabis and khat warnings, penalty notices for disorder, community resolution, cautions without conditions and conditional cautions. Under the two-tier approach only conditional cautions and community resolutions are applied.
An out of court disposal may be considered by the police in consultation with the victim as their preferred option for the offender. While the victim’s wishes will be sought, they have no obligation to take part in the process, and the officer looking into the case will have the final say on how to deal with the offender. The offender must also admit their guilt and agree to the offence being dealt with via an out of court disposal.
The Northants Out of Court Disposals Scrutiny Panel has been set up to independently scrutinise the local use of OOCD’s. This is in response to national recommendations following concerns about their appropriate use.
In June 2019 Northants Police began issuing Conditional Cautions for intimate domestic abuse cases, under a pilot scheme run under the auspices of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Further legislative changes to the Out of Court framework are planned for the second half of 2023 and, in readiness for this, the Northants Force is further increasing its range of rehabilitative options which can be an element of a conditional caution.
The role of the panel is to ensure that the use of OOCD’s is appropriate and proportionate, consistent with national and local policy, and considers the victims’ wishes where appropriate.
The panel review and discuss anonymised case files as a group and conclude one of four categories:
- Appropriate and consistent with national and local guidelines
- Appropriate with observations from the panel
- Inappropriate use of out of court disposal
- Panel fails to agree on the appropriateness of the decision made.
Decisions reached by the panel on each case are recorded, together with observations and recommendations to inform changes in policy or practice. Feedback, both positive and negative, is given to officers involved in the case as part of ongoing training and development.
- Brief overview of agencies represented on Scrutiny Panel
The Northants OOCD Scrutiny Panel is chaired by John Baker, JP, the Chair of the Northamptonshire Bench and includes representation from the Crown Prosecution Service, Police, sentencers (Magistrates), Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, the Probation Service, the Youth Offending Service (Youth panel only) and the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. Voice for Victims and Witnesses also attend the Domestic Abuse Scrutiny Panel.
- Number of Scrutiny Panel meetings held proceeding year
During the financial year 1 April 2022 to end March 2023 the Northants Scrutiny panel has met on six occasions: sitting twice as an Adult Panel, twice as a Domestic Abuse Panel and twice as a Youth Panel.
- Number of cases reviewed by Panel in preceding year
During the 12 months between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023 the Panel has reviewed 60 cases: 20 adult cases, 20 Domestic Abuse cases and 20 youth cases.
- Breakdown of cases reviewed – adults/youth and male/female
Of the 60 cases reviewed; the breakdown is as follows –
- 20 adult cases
- 20 youth cases
- 20 Domestic Abuse cases
- 43 male cases
- 17 female cases
- Analysis of Scrutiny Panel review decisions
Of the 60 decisions scrutinised –
- 30 (50%) were assessed as appropriate and consistent with national and local guidelines. This compares to 22 (37%) in the previous year.
- 12 (20%) were assessed as appropriate but with observations from the panel. This compares to 19 (32%) in the previous year
- 14 (23%) were assessed as inappropriate. This compares to 17 (28%) in the previous year.
There were 4 cases that the panel failed to agree on the appropriateness of the decision made. This compares to 2 cases in the previous year.
42 (70%) of the out of court disposals scrutinised were judged by the panel to be appropriately made. In the 14 (23%) cases where the panel felt the OOCD was inappropriate* detailed feedback was given by a police manager to the officers concerned and, where appropriate, Force wide guidance was issued.
* Cases were assessed as inappropriate either because the panel felt that matter should have been forwarded for a charging decision by the Crown Prosecution Service OR because the panel felt that the case did not meet the evidential standards necessary for an OOCD to be issued.
A further Annual Report will be published in April 2024
Criminal Justice Manager
Northants OPFCC April 2023
A copy of the Northamptonshire Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel Annual Summary 2022/2023 can be download here