More criminals are escaping with a slap on wrist: Crooks are increasingly given a caution or put on ‘restorative justice’ scheme instead of being prosecuted, new report reveals
- Study says Covid-19 pandemic had ‘clear and profound’ effect on justice
- Police are issuing more cautions rather than taking offenders to court during lockdown
- Experts fear it could make the public lose faith in the criminal justice system
More criminals are getting away with a slap on the wrist instead of being prosecuted since the pandemic started, an official report reveals today.
For the first time, watchdogs said police forces were making greater use of cautions or ‘restorative justice’ schemes in which offenders apologise to their victims.
The report warns this could make the public lose faith in the criminal justice system as wrongdoers evade punishment.
Wrongdoers are evading punishment and instead getting away with slaps on the wrist because of the pandemic
It also added that the justice system will suffer Covid-related delays for ‘years to come’ with a ‘severe’ impact on victims of crime unless ministers agree a major cash injection.
Recovery from pandemic-related backlogs will be ‘impossible’ unless ministers agree a significant funding boost, four criminal justice inspectors said.
Top barrister: Close the courts during lockdown
A barrister wants courts to be shut during lockdown after a murder trial was postponed when the judge contracted coronavirus.
Daniel Janner QC said it was ‘madness’ for courts to remain open. Unions and legal bodies have also demanded a court shutdown on safety grounds.
It came as leaked figures show nearly 600 court users and staff, including 69 judges, have tested positive.
Mr Janner is defending Mohammed Hoque, 22, who denies murder, manslaughter and attempted murder. His trial at Southwark Crown Court in south-east London was due to last six weeks. It began on January 5 but was postponed till June after the judge caught Covid-19.
Mr Janner said he had told the judge of his safety concerns, adding: ‘I pointed out the court had no windows, I was unable to visit the cells and that the defence wasn’t satisfied the court was safe. I’m 63 and need to be careful. I was proved right.
‘I’m not blaming the judge – their hands are tied.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We have no plans to close courts.’
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell added: ‘More out-of-court disposals have been given in crimes reported during the pandemic.
‘It will mean people will be getting cautions, probably with conditions attached, rather than going to court.
‘They won’t be brought before magistrates.’
He warned this could have a ‘knock-on effect’ on confidence in the justice system.
The report said the pandemic had ‘clear and profound’ consequences for justice, with courts, police, prisons and probation services all in a ‘critical’ condition.
Justice for victims will be delayed, potentially leading many to lose faith in the system, the watchdogs warned.
Mr Russell said: ‘We have grave concerns that this impact will prove highly damaging to victims, witnesses and defendants.
‘Justice delayed is justice denied, so the longer we leave cases the more likely it is that victims and witnesses will drop out – and it could mean serious offenders go unpunished. That is a really big concern.’
He compiled the report with the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Windsor, Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor and Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Kevin McGinty.
The backlog of court cases has soared to more than half a million in England and Wales due to the pandemic, including more than 53,000 in crown courts.
This poses the ‘greatest risk’, they said.
The report added: ‘Inspectors found numerous examples of serious cases cancelled at short notice, despite offences having taken place a long time before.’
A spokesman for the Government said it was investing £450million to help the courts recover, adding: ‘This is already yielding results.
‘The magistrates’ backlog continues to fall and crown cases reached pre-pandemic levels last month.’