Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Lord Chief Justice at the Commons Justice Committee

As reported by the Daily Mail 27th October, the Lord Chief Justice gave evidence to the Justice Committee and was critical of the excessive use of cautioning as a disposal for violent offences.  He is reported to have told MPs that it was ‘demeaning’ to the victims of violent crimes if prosecutors do not bother taking offenders to court.  The vast majority of people would agree wholeheartedly since, after all, the Lord Chief Justice was saying what many have been saying for some time.

Cautioning for offences of violence ought to be an exceptional course.  Technically, cautions are not convictions though they can sometimes have serious consequences for the individual - e.g. in relation to certain forms of employment.  It is therefore important that arrested persons avail themselves of legal advice before agreeing to accept a caution.

On 18th August, the Daily Mail printed an article claiming that a "caution culture" had taken root in Britain - here.  However that may be, there is no doubt that the use of cautioning rather than prosecution has increased markedly in recent years. Quite naturally, there are fears that cautioning will continue and maybe increase given the present government's desire to reduce the number of Magistrates' Courts.  The Lord Chief Justice's comment is therefore very timely.

Further details about "Cautioning and Diversion" may be seen on the CPS website.

The Lord Chief Justice also called for reform of the family justice system so that there is less use of the adversarial system - see Law Society Gazette.  He claimed that the adversarial system was not appropriate for settling parental disputes over children.  The system left a great deal to be desired in cases where there was no allegation of child abuse.  Lord Judge said he would be disappointed if the Family Justice Review ended up adhering to the adversarial system in "private law" caes (i.e. cases not involving local authorities).

The Justice Committee is calling for evidence from interested parties in relation to proposed sentencing guidelines for assault cases.  Submissions have to be made by 10th Novermber - see here.

A video of the Lord Chief Justice at the Justice Committee may be seen here.  It is over an hour in length but is well worth watching.


  1. You rightly point out the seriousness of this disposal. I recently had a bail remand on a domestic violence charge aggravated by associated alleged offences to the complainant and another. PNC indicated a caution for ABH three years previously. On requesting further information from CPS the caution was confirmed and further it was for an assault on a female with whom our defendant had been having a relationship. Out of court disposals have grown by stealth. Parking tickets are one thing; instances such as I have described are another.