Posted: Tuesday 16th June 2015
For the past year, an Independent panel, appointed by Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Sue Mountstevens, has met to review the use of Out of Court Disposals (OoCDs). The Panel was set up following national concerns about the appropriate use of out of court disposals – both from magistrates and local people. Sue’s aim was clear – to shine a light on their use, recommend areas for improvement and increase public confidence.
So who’s on it? The Panel includes magistrates, representatives from the CPS, Courts, Youth Offending Teams and, crucially, those bringing the ‘voice of the victim’ – organisations working with victims, and a member of the local community. We are expertly supported by Chief Inspector (CI) Ian Norrie and Helen Jeal of the Criminal Justice Department, who have the unenviable task of putting together the files and being on hand to answer any queries the panel have as they review the cases.
How does it all work? The Panel meets four times a year. Files are selected from a list in advance – sometimes on the basis of a theme (such as domestic abuse), sometimes by disposal type (such as Conditional Cautions). Meetings start with a look at the current performance picture, and then silence descends as the group gets on with the task of reviewing files. It’s a colourful meeting thanks to the array of green, yellow and pink post-its that the Panel use to indicate what they’re thinking and prompt debate. My role is to capture the queries, concerns, recommendations, and yes, good practice that Panel members identify. Being a touch-typist definitely comes in handy!
What is the Panel looking for? Ultimately, the Panel is looking to decide whether or not they think the disposal was appropriate. They are not there to overturn decisions made. But they do make observations about whether the views of the victim were taken into account, whether the outcome was likely to change future behaviour, whether the outcome was felt to be too lenient.
What happens next? I produce a report on findings of each meeting, including recommendations and highlighting examples of good practice. CI Ian Norrie prepares a written response and takes issues identified to the Steering Group responsible for putting in place changes to policy and practice. Feedback on issues with specific cases is given to officers if needed. The report and response are published on the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) website – after all it’s all about increasing understanding and confidence in the use of OoCDs.
The Avon and Somerset Panel has attracted interest from other areas – through the Magistrates Association, and even a visit from MOPAC and the Met! The impact of the Panel’s work can already be seen – in promoting access behavioural change programmes such as the new Victim Awareness Course, and development of guidance to increase police use of financial compensation as a condition of a Conditional Caution. The Panel has also highlighted many examples of good practice – examples of clear and thoughtful decision making, a consistent and robust approach to dealing with kerb crawlers, and strong partnership working to address safeguarding issues to name but a few.
The coming year will see welcome changes to simplify out of court disposals, to provide a swift and proportionate tool for the police to deal with low-level offending, whilst bringing consistency and addressing concerns with the current system. There will continue to be a valuable role for the Panel as these changes come into being to provide an independent ‘check and test’, and to work with the Constabulary to continue to shape and increase confidence in the way these disposals are used.
If you’d like to find out more, please visit the Panel’s web page and have a look at our reports: www.avonandsomerset-pcc.gov.uk/Openness/Avon-and-Somerset-Out-of-Court-Disposal-Scrutiny-Panel.aspx
If you have any ideas about themes for future meetings, please get in touch!
Criminal Justice and Commissioning Support Officer
Avon and Somerset Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner