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Improving confidence through independent scrutiny in Avon and Somerset

AS-Out-of-Court-Disposal-Scrutiny-Panel-1

Avon and Somerset Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel

An Out of Court Disposals Scrutiny Panel, set up by Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Sue Mountstevens to independently scrutinise the use of Out of Court Disposals, is marking its one year anniversary this month.

PCC Sue Mountstevens set up the Panel in Avon and Somerset in response to national recommendations following concerns about the appropriate use of Out of Court Disposals and in a bid to improve transparency and increase confidence.

Out of Court Disposals allow the police to deal quickly and proportionately with low-level, often first-time offending which does not merit prosecution at court. The overarching aim of the Panel is to ensure this process is honest and open.

In Avon and Somerset, the use of Out of Court Disposals aim to be victim focused, taking into account the full circumstances of the offence, offender and views of the victim. More information about this can be found on the Constabulary’s website.

PCC Sue Mountstevens said: "Where I can I welcome independent scrutiny of various aspects of policing as I have always pledged to make policing as open and transparent as possible. I am an advocate of Out of Court Disposal when used appropriately in providing an effective and positive outcome for both victim and offender, while reducing bureaucracy at a time when resources are constrained across the criminal justice system.

"The role of the Panel in this process is imperative in providing quality assurance and ensuring that Out of Court Disposals are being used appropriately. I have no doubt that as a result of their independent scrutiny they are helping to improve both local people’s understanding of and confidence in their police service."

Membership of the Panel comprises representatives of Magistrates, Youth Offending Teams, the Crown Prosecution Service, Her Majesties Courts and Tribunal Service, together with voluntary sector organisations working with victims (Victim Support and Stand Against Racism and Inequality) and an Independent member.

Avon and Somerset Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel Chair Mike Evans, said: "The role of the Panel is to ensure that the use of Out of Court Disposals is appropriate and proportionate, consistent with national and local policy, and that the victims’ wishes are taken into account. The overarching aim of the Panel is to bring transparency to the use of Out of Court Disposals in order to increase understanding and confidence in their use.

"The members of the Panel give an all-round view of the cases under scrutiny and the presence at the Panel meeting of a Chief Inspector means that there is immediate and effective two-way communication. The response from Avon and Somerset Constabulary after each meeting has always reflected the Panel’s highlighting of good practice and potential training issues for the Force.

So how do the Panel operate?

The Panel consider performance information regarding levels and use of Out of Court Disposals, and then review and discuss 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.

The Panel is not there to review individual decisions but instead to assess appropriate use, highlight examples of good practice and make recommendations for improvement. The Panel will consider performance information, and changes to legislations, policy and practice to support them in their role.

Decisions reached by the Panel on each case file are recorded, together with observations and recommendations to inform changes in policy or practice. The Panel’s findings and recommendations are then made public on the PCC’s website.

Mike continued: "After a year of operation, the key to the success of the Panel has been an honest, independent scrutiny followed by an honest and open response from the Avon and Somerset Constabulary. The second key to the successful working of the Panel has been the support provided by the office of the PCC and the Avon and Somerset Constabulary in the preparation, hosting and minute taking of the Panel meetings."

Avon and Somerset Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel was established in February 2014 and marks its one year anniversary this month. Its success as an independent scrutiny Panel has been nationally recognised and the Panel have recently received guests from MOPAC and the Met.

To see the reports and feedback to date from the Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel meetings, find out more about the members and for further legislation and guidance regarding the Panel click here.

 

Posted on Thursday 12th February 2015
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