On Monday 9 November I announced our intention to review the use of out-of-court disposals by criminal justice agencies. Today the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and I are publishing the terms of reference for this review.
Out-of-court penalties and other similar interventions in one form or another have been available for a long time. They are designed to provide simple, swift and proportionate ways of responding to antisocial behaviour and low-risk offending and to save courts the time of listening to minor and undisputed matters. They also support rehabilitation and reparation, especially by young people, provide quick resolution to victims and free up time for the police and courts to focus on more serious offending.
Existing legislation and guidance on the use of out-of-court disposals is clear, but we have been concerned by reports of these disposals being used for apparently serious offences, including violent assaults. We are also concerned by the apparent variation between areas in the number of crimes brought to justice through the use of out-of-court disposals, by reports of the repeated use of such disposals even for low-level offences, and by the robustness of their enforcement.
We have therefore asked the Office for Criminal Justice Reform to conduct a review of the use of out-of-court disposals with the following terms of reference:
To examine evidence on the use and enforcement of out-of- court disposals for adults and youths by criminal justice agencies;
To identify any issues with current operational practices, including current performance and regulation frameworks, and compliance with legislation and published guidance;
To report to Ministers in order that they can issue a written statement to Parliament in March 2010 on emerging findings and the focus for the next phase of the review, including any further work required to improve the compliance of criminal justice agencies with legislation and guidance and to consider possible changes to the out-of-court disposals frameworks for adults and youths to improve transparency and confidence in the criminal justice system.
The objective of this first phase of the review is to ensure we have a proper understanding of the operation of the existing out-of-court disposals framework. To this end, and in consultation with key criminal justice partners, the review will examine:
i) national trends in the numbers of out-of-court disposals in the context of the level of crime, charged cases, court caseloads and convictions;
ii) local variation in the number of out-of-court disposals and operational practice, including performance management and quality assurance arrangements;
iii) the use of out-of-court disposals for serious offences, and the consultation with victims in such cases;
iv) evidence of the effectiveness of out-of-court disposals, including operational issues such as the repeat issue of disposals to offenders, compliance and enforcement, and any evidence of the outcomes they deliver for offenders, victims and the public's confidence in the criminal justice system; and
v) the efficiency of using out-of-court disposals, including evidence of their costs and benefits to criminal justice agencies, and any concerns about bureaucracy.
The findings from this first phase of the review will determine the work to be undertaken in the second phase of the review. The programme of work that will form the second phase of the review, and the timescales for this, will be set out in the further written statement I will issue to Parliament in March 2010.