There has been much discussion on out of court disposals. In general that phrase sums up the situation where a single police officer sometimes with the approval of an inspector and sometimes without decides to offer some form of caution to an offender who admits his/her guilt. It has been recognised not least by police themselves that this situation has gotten out of hand. Cautions are considered successful convictions and go towards meeting whatever targets have been set to indicate a job well done. The fact that years ago the Home Office set up and approved this process of police being judge and jury on the still fatuous belief of speedy justice serves only to undermine current statements on the same topic. But it also fixated in the minds of police officers that their job specification went beyond the prevention of disorder and the apprehension of law breakers. There is an old saying, “Give the Devil a finger and he will take the whole hand”.
This mindset was revealed unwittingly by ACPO in the form of comments by Deputy Chief Constable Mike Barton, of Durham Constabulary when discussing criminal activities within prison walls. “I spent most of my service thinking after I had sent people to prison that the job was done,” he says. “I was really proud of some of the sentences I had achieved for drug dealing. I have personally ‘sold’ life imprisonment three times to people by convincing them to tell me what they had done.”
He seems to have forgotten or overlooked that sentencing is a function of the courts. It would seem unlikely that this very senior officer is aware of the implications of what he is quoted as saying or perhaps I am being pedantic. There is however one undeniable truth. For myriad reasons this country is a far less free society than when I was appointed to the bench.