“Given the strong consensus we have decided to move forward now..”

The Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Minister, Paul Goggins, MP, has confirmed “a raft of radical new proposals” to tackle low level crime. As the statement details, and as previously noted, everyone involved is on the same page. Worth noting that, of the political parties, only Sinn Féin are listed as having responded to the public consultation on the proposals, and only to one part of them – Alternatives to Prosecution Consultation [pdf file] – although the summary doesn’t detail whether the party was in favour of, or against, any of the particular measures, nor in what circumstances. No political party is listed as having responding to the Fine Default Consultation [pdf file]. Adds Belfast Telegraph report. And, as the BBC notes, lobby group Committee on the Adminstration of Justice (CAJ) are not happy [pdf file]. Update From the BBC report, the DUP response

DUP Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt welcomed the new powers, saying they would reduce the administration burden on officers and make the police service “more effective and efficient”. “These measures should also improve the PSNI’s clearance rates for dealing with offences, and ensure that punishment is swift,” he said. “We should also see phenomenal savings which would provide the PSNI with an opportunity to strategically redirect any such savings to tackle more serious violent crime”.

From the notes to Paul Goggins statement

The main features of the package are as follows:

1. “No prosecution” decisions

· Police currently produce a full file in all cases where there is evidence, no matter how weak, that an identifiable individual has committed a criminal offence—even when the police recommendation is that the case should not be taken forward.

· Arrangements will be simplified to give police the responsibility in a range of summary cases for making a decision where police are satisfied that there is insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. A pilot will run initially for a 6-month period in A, B and F Districts (covering North & West Belfast, South & East Belfast and Fermanagh, Omagh, Cookstown and Dungannon & South Tyrone). There will be mechanisms for ongoing sampling of the cases and for external quality assurance.

· Decisions in all other cases will continue to be taken by the PPS. These include decisions in sensitive and difficult cases, such as homicide, serious assaults (including those of a sexual nature), domestic violence, hate crime together with all summary cases of a similar nature.

2. Alternatives to prosecution

· Following a positive response to consultation last year, we will bring forward legislation covering fixed penalty notices for disorder; prosecutorial fines; and conditional cautions.

· Penalty notices will allow an immediate penalty to be imposed by police for a specified range of minor offences including disorderly behaviour, low level criminal damage, purchasing intoxicating liquor for a minor and first-time offences of shoplifting up to a prescribed value limit.

· The penalty notices would target first-time and non-habitual offenders and situations where the offence can be dealt with speedily and properly and thereby ensuring the effective use of resources.

· A penalty notice will not form part of a criminal record, though a record that it has been issued will be kept and will be available to police and to the courts in the event of any further offence.

· If a penalty notice is refused, the case will be reported to the PPS for a prosecution decision.

· The aim will be to have legislation for penalty notices drafted and ready so that a devolved justice minister could take it forward through the Assembly.

3. Prosecutorial fines and conditional cautions

· Legislation on prosecutorial fines and conditional cautions will similarly be prepared.

· This will allow the PPS to impose fines, if necessary with conditions attached, rather than proceeding with the case before a court. This is again intended to catch lower level offending which can be dealt with without formal prosecution.

· A prosecutorial fine would not result in a criminal record if paid.

· A prosecutorial fine would be conditional on admitting an offence. In other cases, or if for any reason a person did not wish to receive such a fine, the case could be proceeded with in the usual way.

· Prosecutorial fines were recommended in the Criminal Justice Review.

· Conditional cautions allow for cautions for low level offences to have conditions attached and provide an additional diversionary disposal alongside existing arrangements. The decision to caution would be taken by the PPS and the caution administered by police.

· They would require the recipient to admit the offence and agree to comply with specified conditions such as making reparation, not entering a specified area or engaging with substance misuse or other rehabilitative services.

· Like other forms of caution, they would be included on the individual’s criminal record.

· Where any condition was not met, the case would be reconsidered for prosecution.

4. Fine default

· A programme of work is being launched aimed at giving better information to courts when deciding if a fine is the appropriate disposal; putting more effort into successfully collecting fines; and providing alternative sanctions to prison in the event of default.

· Specific measures include a fine default register; the rolling-out of a fine collection service which has been successfully piloted; and testing of the Supervised Activity Order arrangements in the Criminal Justice Order 2008 through an introductory scheme. These measures pave the way for further developments in the future, including better ways of dealing with enforcement of penalties generally, and wider use of the Supervised Activity Order.

· Legislation on attachment of earnings and benefits in order to secure payment of fines will also be prepared for the consideration of a devolved Minister.

· Together these proposals provide a programme covering the short, medium and longer terms aimed at minimising the number of fine defaulters who end up spending very short periods in prison. They will result in the better and more prompt collection of fines, and in more effective disposals where people still default.