Controversial community resolution orders increasingly being used to deal with serious crime

Martin Evans
·3 min read
A police car
A police car

Almost three quarters of offences in which the perpetrator avoids prosecution are now dealt with through controversial community resolution orders, according to the latest data.

The informal punishments, which often involve the offender apologising to the victim or paying them compensation, means they avoid getting a criminal record. They were introduced to allow the police to deal with a wide range of low level offences such as criminal damage, theft and minor assaults.

It also provides an opportunity for the crimes that are not committed by prolific, dangerous offenders, but by law-abiding people who had a momentary lapse in judgement to be dealt with appropriately, without recourse to formal criminal justice sanctions.

On some occasions, this could include a simple apology, an offer of compensation or a promise to clear up any graffiti or criminal damage. The decision to give someone a criminal record is not one taken lightly, and the police understand that some victims want an outcome that does not involve a full judicial process.

But campaigners have warned that they amount to little more than a slap on the wrist, that do little to deter future offending.

Data published this week revealed that despite criticism of the scheme, there has been a huge increase in the use of community resolutions by police forces as an alternative to prosecution. Last year there were 105,000 community resolutions handed out across England and Wales.

While that represented a slight drop on the previous year, it was up as a proportion of out of all out of court disposals for the fifth year running. They now account for a staggering 73 per cent of all out of court options, up from just over 56 per cent five years ago.

At the same time overall prosecutions in England and Wales fell by 1 per cent to 1.37 million. Last year it was revealed that rather than just being used for low level offences, which community resolutions are restricted to, informal punishments by the police were increasingly being used to deal with thousands of serious crimes, including sex offences, arson, violence, burglary and the possession of weapons, which do not involve going to court.

Critics have stated that the orders were being used "contrary to their original purpose", and the National Police Chiefs' Council have said in the past that community resolutions should not be used in the most serious cases.

Concerns have also been expressed by criminal justice system partners that the police use of informal resolutions has not always been not transparent or subject to any form of external scrutiny. As a result, this can misconstrue the legal status and implications of informal resolutions.

Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “The use by police of community resolution orders has jumped for the fifth year running as a proportion of out of court disposals.

“Contrary to their original purpose and clear guidance given by police chiefs at the time, community resolutions are increasingly being used to dispose of more serious crime.

"We know that offences ranging from arson to violent crimes, burglary, drug trafficking and even some sexual assaults have been dealt with by community resolutions, which many may argue runs contrary to their original purpose.

“These orders were designed to deal with less serious offences, particularly involving young or first-time offenders.  

“Many of these more serious offences should be dealt with in a courtroom and yet the increased use of resolution orders comes when reported crimes remain stubbornly high, with some serious crimes involving weapons on the increase and yet police are having to grapple with years of cuts to their own resources.”