Posted: Tuesday 16th February 2016
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, has now been in operation for two years. In the first year we received a visit from officers from MOPAC and the Met and recently two members of the Avon and Somerset Panel went to New Scotland Yard to gather new ideas by observing the operation of the London Panel.
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 that this process is transparent and that the Out of Court Disposal is appropriate and consistent with national and local guidelines.
In Avon and Somerset, the use of Out of Court Disposals aims to be victim focused, taking into account the full circumstances of the offence, offender and views of the victim and more information about this can be found on the Constabulary’s website.
Membership of the Panel comprises representatives of Magistrates, Youth Offending Teams, the Crown Prosecution Service, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, together with voluntary sector organisations working with victims (Victim Support and Stand Against Racism and Inequality) and an Independent member.
The Panel considers 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 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, together with the response from Avon and Somerset Constabulary.
During the last year, the Panel has met four times and scrutinised files on the following themes: Business Crime, Violence against the Person, Hate Crime and the use of Simple Cautions. The Panel’s discussions are always completely honest and open and where members of the Panel decide that the use of an Out of Court Disposal is inappropriate, full reasons are given and recorded so that the Constabulary is aware of the rationale behind the decision.
There are three key aspects to the success of the Avon and Somerset Panel. The first of these is the support we receive from the offices of the PCC and the Constabulary in the selection of the files, the copying of all the information required for the scrutiny and the recording of the decisions reached by the Panel. We are also fortunate to have a Senior Officer from the Force present during the Panel Meeting, who can quickly respond to Panel Members’ questions and provide detailed feedback on previous recommendations.
The second element is the willingness of all the Panel members to contribute to the discussion of each file. Each panel Member brings a different perspective to the forum and this provides an excellent mixture of expertise and knowledge. The Avon and Somerset Panel is a truly independent body and I am grateful to each and every member of the Panel for their frank contributions to the conversation round the table. It is rare that we are unable to come to a consensus but the detailed conversations allow the Panel to highlight good practice and also areas where lessons can be learned and training issues identified.
The third key element is the honesty of the response from the Constabulary following the meeting. It is clear that the Force is encouraged by the good practice identified by the independent Panel and individual officers are keen to receive feedback on the outcome of the Panel’s discussions. Where the Panel has identified a potential training issue, the Constabulary has taken that advice either to the Out of Court Disposals Steering Group, to the Inspectors involved in the decision making process or to the individual officer in the case.
I look forward to the third year of operation for the Panel and am certain that it will continue to bring transparency and confidence to the use of Out of Court Disposals.
Chair – Avon and Somerset Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel