What is an Out of Court Disposal?
Out of Court Disposals (“OOCD’s”) are one of several methods of concluding criminal investigations without proceeding to a formal court prosecution. They are administered to offenders to enable the police to deal proportionately with mainly (but not exclusively) low-level, often first-time offending and with a view to maximising victim satisfaction whilst addressing the offending behaviour and criminogenic needs of the offender.
South Yorkshire Police currently operates a 5 tier framework for Adult OOCD's for those offenders aged 18 years and over. This includes;
- Adult ‘Simple’ Caution,
- Adult Conditional Caution,
- Community Resolution,
- Penalty Notice for Disorder and
- Cannabis/Khat Warning.
An explanation of these disposals, which includes the consequences on an offender’s criminal record, can be found on the College of Policing’s APP Website, click here to visit this site.
For youth offenders (offenders who are under the age of 18 years), South Yorkshire Police operates a 3 tier framework for Youth OOCD’s which includes;
- Youth Caution,
- Youth Conditional Caution and
- Community Resolution
An explanation of these disposals, including the consequences on an offender’s criminal record, can be found on the College of Policing’s APP Website, click here to visit this site.
What are the most common Out of Court Disposals used by South Yorkshire Police?
The most common OOCDs used by South Yorkshire Police are Community Resolutions. In 2021 there were approximately 5,500 Community Resolutions issued to offenders which accounts for around 4% of all disposals in that year.
Community Resolutions can be used for adults or youths and are a non-statutory disposal. They are a method of dealing with an offender for a lower-level crime in a way which is proportionate. Community Resolutions can be offered when the offender accepts responsibility for offending behaviour and, in most cases, where the victim has agreed that they do not want more formal action taken. Community Resolutions can only be given where strict criteria are met.
By encouraging offenders to face up to the impact of their behaviour and to take responsibility for making good any harm caused, a Community Resolution can reduce the likelihood of their reoffending.
The most appropriate offences to warrant a Community Resolution are likely to be criminal damage, low-value theft, minor non-injury assaults and public order offences, however this list is not exhaustive.
Community Resolutions must have appropriate conditions attached, which should be proportionate to both the offence and the circumstances. It is important to note that the conditions of a Community Resolution are voluntary and are not therefore enforceable by the police. This means that where an offender does not comply with the conditions of a Community Resolution, the police are generally unable to take any further action against them.
Community Resolution conditions can include; the offender being referred to local support agencies to address a specific identified need (such as substance misuse or anger management), they can be given advice about their behaviour, be asked to apologise or send a letter of apology to the victim or make some form of reparation such as repairing or paying for any damage or harm done.
Community Resolutions can also include Restorative Justice, which involves direct or indirect communication between the victim and offender of the same incident which could include an informal or formal face to face meeting or an indirect exchange of verbal messages or written statements/questions/letters. Restorative Justice is proven to increase victim satisfaction and reduce reoffending.
The next most common OOCD used by South Yorkshire Police are Adult Cautions. In 2021 there were approximately 2000 Adult Cautions issued to offenders, which accounts for around 1.4% of all disposals in that year.
There are two types of adult caution, an Adult Simple Caution and an Adult Conditional Caution.
Adult Simple Cautions are a formal warning which can be given to an adult who has admitted an offence. The police are permitted to make the decision to offer an Adult Simple Caution for most summary only or either way offences with some exceptions. They are a disposal used where there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction but when it is not in the public interest to prosecute an offender. Adult Simple Cautions can only be given where strict criteria are met.
Adult Conditional Cautions are a formal OOCD given to an adult who has admitted an offence. The police are permitted to make the decision to offer an Adult Conditional Caution for most summary only or either way offences with some exceptions. The disposal enables officers to deal with offenders outside of the formal court system, for cases that would be suitable for prosecution but where the public interest is better served by the offender complying with suitable conditions, which must be rehabilitative, reparative, restrictive and/or punitive. Where, without reasonable excuse, the offender fails to comply with the conditions, a formal prosecution for the original offence may follow (but not always). Adult Conditional Cautions can only be given where strict criteria are met.
Adult Conditional Caution Conditions in South Yorkshire can include (From April 2022):
- Referral to a Substance Misuse Recovery Service for screening/triage and further attendance on a 1 ½ hour Substance Misuse Intervention session to understand; the risks and consequences of substance misuse, discuss harm reduction and identify support opportunities
- Referral to a Health Diversion Provider for an initial needs assessment, onward referral to additional (voluntary) support and follow-up review session to address issues around: health, mental health, impulse control and other criminogenic need
- Referral to a Female Offender Service (District Specific) to undergo a trauma informed holistic intervention to address an offender’s identified needs
- Attendance on a 1 ½ hour group-based Crime and Consequences Intervention to understand the impact that offending behaviours have on victims and others
Other conditions can include engaging with other services based on individual need, paying compensation to victims, giving a written or verbal apology, engaging in the Restorative Justice process, restrictive conditions not to contact a named person or go to a certain location and paying a fine to court.
All other OOCD are used much less frequently by South Yorkshire Police. Altogether, from the remaining OOCD, just over 700 were issued to offenders in 2021, accounting for around 0.5% of all disposals in that year.
How does South Yorkshire Police use OOCD?
The most common offence types where South Yorkshire Police used an OOCD in 2021 were:
- assaults (accounting for around 43% of all OOCD)
- drugs offences (accounting for around 21% of all OOCD)
- public order offences (accounting for around 12% of all OOCD)
- criminal damage and arson (accounting for around 11% of all OOCD)
- theft or other acquisitive crime (accounting for around 8% of all OOCD)
Of all OOCD issued by South Yorkshire Police in 2021 (where age, ethnicity and/or gender is recorded on our crime system):
- 69% were given to offenders who identified as male
- 31% were given to offenders who identified as female
- 90% were given to offenders who identified as White or White British
- 10% were given to offenders who identified as an ethnicity other than White or White British
- 23% were given to Youth Offenders (17 years of age or under)
- 77% were given to Adult Offenders (18 years of age or older)
All data shown above is from a live recording system and is therefore subject to change.
When can an Out of Court Disposal be used and who makes the decision to administer them?
When considering whether or not to finalise an investigation by way of an OOCD we place the victim directly at the heart of our decision-making process. Our police officers and staff must take all reasonable steps to consult with and obtain the views of the victim on the appropriate outcome to any investigation.
While the victim’s wishes will always be considered very carefully, there are nevertheless strict criteria which must be met before an OOCD or any other outcome disposal can be used. The police must, amongst other things, consider the seriousness and circumstances of the offence, the available evidence and public interest, the impact of the offence on the victim, the previous offending history of the offender, whether the offence is admitted and the appropriateness of any potential conditions to be attached to the disposal. Therefore, the final decision on whether an OOCD should be used rests with the professional judgement of the police and/or the Crown Prosecution Service.
How do you ensure that Out of Court Disposals are used appropriately?
Authorisation and administration of all OOCD's must be completed lawfully, legitimately, ethically and in accordance with local policy and National Guidance. This is key to ensuring crime data accuracy, improving victim satisfaction, maintaining confidence and appropriately addressing offending behaviour.
Through regular scrutiny of outcomes, we seek to ensure that there is appropriate use of OOCD's across the Force so that we and the public can be confident that OOCD’s are being applied correctly and consistently.
Supervisors are directly responsible for ensuring that officers under their command use OOCD’s appropriately and according to policy and guidance. Many OOCD also require authorisation from a supervisor of Sergeant or Inspector rank before they can be used.
Additional internal scrutiny around the use of OOCD’s is provided by regular dip-sampling of investigations by OOCD Leads and District Quality Assurance Teams and formal audits of outcome disposals carried out by our Audit and Governance Team.
We promote the appropriate use of OOCDs through guidance, training and monitoring as well as feedback to individual officers and their supervisors. There is also external oversight of our use of OOCD’s by an independent Scrutiny Panel.
What is the Independent OOCD Scrutiny Panel and how does that work?
The OOCD Scrutiny Panel is an independent panel of people comprising of Magistrates’ Bench Chair and Deputy Bench Chairs, a representative from the Crown Prosecution Service and a member of a victims’ organisation representing the victims’ voice. A senior Youth Offending Team representative, the Force Crime Incident Registrar and Force Lead for OOCD’s are also represented at meetings of the OOCD Scrutiny Panel but do not have a vote in panel decisions.
Members of the OOCD Scrutiny Panel have agreed to engage with the scrutiny of the decisions of South Yorkshire Police in dealing with offenders through the use of OOCD’s to enhance consistency, transparency and public confidence.
The OOCD Scrutiny Panel meets once every 3 to 4 months to dip-sample a random selection of investigations finalised with an OOCD’s and to check that local policy and National Guidance has been applied by the officer and/or the decision maker as appropriate to the circumstances of the case. The victim and offender details, together with any other identifiable data is redacted from the information provided to the OOCD Scrutiny Panel.
When considering investigations, the OOCD Scrutiny Panel will assess whether the use of an OOCD was either; appropriate and consistent with local policy and national guidance, appropriate and consistent (with observations) or inappropriate and inconsistent with local policy and national guidance.
The findings of the OOCD Scrutiny Panel will always be retrospective. The results are shared widely and offer an effective feedback mechanism to South Yorkshire Police for organisational learning and to individual officers for training or development needs, as well as identifying examples of good practice.