Special scrutiny panels of magistrates have been assessing how the police deal with low level and first time offending which does not merit prosecution at court, using ‘out of court disposals’.
The use of these measures has increased over the last 5 years because the methods allow the police to spend more time on frontline duties and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy, court time and public expenditure.
Margaret Ollerenshaw, Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Cheshire and former Magistrate said, "There are national guidelines for how out of court disposals including fines and cautions may be used for offences such as the possession of cannabis, criminal damage, pick pocketing and shoplifting but it is important that locally they are being used appropriately and that the needs of the victim are at the heart of every decision".
Four scrutiny panels were set up in Cheshire twelve months ago as a response to concerns raised by the judiciary and the public about the use of the disposals.
Cases are selected randomly and are assessed by each panel which meets every three months and includes magistrates and police personnel. The purpose of the panels is to make sure that the disposals are being used appropriately and justly.
John Bache, Deputy Chairman of the Magistrates Association said, "I am delighted to see that the work undertaken in Cheshire by the Panels shows that on the whole, the panels were satisfied with the outcome. 168 cases have been examined to date and in 82% of cases, the panel agreed with the decision. The magistrates cannot change the outcome of the decision but feedback will be given to the officers where the decision could have been improved. Cheshire was one of the first police forces nationally to set up these scrutiny panels and so far the feedback has been excellent. The success of these arrangements depend upon a robust and professional relationship between the police and the magistracy".