Jack Straw orders police caution review

By Emmeline Saunders

Jack Straw has today announced a review into the use of police cautions for violent offences.

The justice secretary said a review was necessary to help overcome the discrepancies in use between different police forces.

He said: “The rules on the use of cautions are clear: they are for low level offending and in exceptional circumstances for more serious offences. The guidance is clear, but how that is properly applied is the issue.”

The Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, said yesterday that the increase of cautions given out for incidents of violent crime was due to pressure on the courts and prison system.

Between 2000 and 2008, 2.2 million people were cautioned, of which more than 550,000 were given repeat cautions.

The BBC programme Panorama has learned nearly 40,000 cases of assault were dealt with a caution last year.

The findings have led to claims that out of court penalties are being used for more serious crimes than they are intended.

Mr Straw added that he “shared the concern that cautions are being used inappropriately”.

“I’m not passing the buck but that’s the way the system operates,” he said.

The announcement comes after Mr Straw ordered the closure of more than 20 magistrates’ courts last month, and prison officers raised concerns about overcrowding.