Out of Court Disposals are used by the police to deal with low-level crime and anti-social behaviour instead of taking an offender to court. They are a way to resolve an investigation where the offender is known and has admitted to the offence. The victim is always consulted before deciding whether to proceed with an Out of Court Disposal. By focusing on restorative justice and the impact of the crime, the aim of Out of Court Disposals is to deliver justice for victims and prevent reoffending.
Background to Scrutiny of Out of Court Disposals in Cheshire
From the early 2000s, police forces around the country began to significantly increase their use of Out of Court Disposals (OOCDs). To ensure public trust was maintained, a number of areas throughout the country embarked on ways to scrutinise the transparency and effectiveness of OOCDs locally.
Following a conference in November 2012 a protocol was agreed by Cheshire Police and the magistracy for a system of reviewing OOCDs which would provide rigorous scrutiny of these disposals. The Cheshire model for scrutinising OOCDs was first established in 2013 with four separate Scrutiny Panels set up across the County, each representing its local policing unit and local justice area.
The Panels met quarterly and reviewed twenty randomly selected cases (fifteen adult and five youth). Initially, the protocol allowed for two police officers and three magistrates on a Scrutiny Panel. In December 2014, this was changed to include a representative from the Youth Justice Service (YJS), reflecting the close cooperation between the police and YJS when considering Youth OOCDs.
In November 2015 further changes were made to the protocol to accommodate geographic reconfigurations both in the police and the magistracy, and to establish a separate Youth Scrutiny Panel. Three geographically based Adult Panels and one pan-Cheshire Youth Panel resulted.
Magistrates on the Adult Panels represented their respective communities and one magistrate from each geographical area would attend the Youth Scrutiny Panel. The protocol was updated again in 2017 to accommodate the move in Cheshire towards a single Cheshire Bench. The sequential changes made to the protocol were formally agreed by the police, Magistrates and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) at the Annual Criminal Justice Conference.
For 2022, it was decided that the panels needed to evolve and panel membership should expand to ensure the scrutiny given to OOCDs is truly independent, to give legitimacy to the findings, and to ensure the views of the victim are heard. As such, it was decided that it is not appropriate for police to continue to govern the process and it now sits with the Police and Crime Commissioner and his office (OPCC).
These terms of reference have been drawn up in consultation with the signatories of the previous Cheshire protocol.
Annual Criminal Justice Conference
To ensure transparency and boost public confidence in OOCDs, the view of and perspective from other agencies within the Criminal Justice sphere has always been considered very important. From the outset there has been an annual Police Criminal Justice Conference whose primary remit is to disseminate information regarding the use of OOCDs and the work of the Scrutiny Panels.
Stakeholders invited to the Conference include the most senior representatives from HMCTS, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Probation, Victim Support Services, Magistrates, the Senior Judiciary, as well as the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire and High Sheriff.
The Conference provides an invaluable opportunity for the wider Criminal Justice sphere to be informed of, and to express their views of, the effectiveness of the process. Feedback from the Conference demonstrates that Cheshire continues to enjoy and maintain a high degree of confidence from stakeholders in the integrity of its OOCDs Scrutiny process.
The Commissioner and OPCC will attend the conference and listen to the views given by delegates.