Burglars will be allowed to escape without punishment under new instructions sent to all police forces. Police have been told they can let them off the threat of a court appearance and instead allow them to go with a caution.
The same leniency will be shown to criminals responsible for more than 60 other different offences, ranging from arson through vandalism to sex with underage girls.
New rules sent to police chiefs by the Home Office set out how seriously various crimes should be regarded, and when offenders who admit to them should be sent home with a caution.
Some serious offences - including burglary of a shop or office, threatening to kill, actual bodily harm, and possession of Class A drugs such as heroin or cocaine - may now be dealt with by caution if police decide that would be the best approach.
And a string of crimes including common assault, threatening behaviour, sex with an underage girl or boy, and taking a car without its owner's consent, should normally be dealt with by a caution, the circular said.
The Home Office instruction applies to offenders who have admitted their guilt but who have no criminal record.
They are also likely to be able to show mitigating factors to lessen the seriousness of their crime.
The instruction to abandon court prosecutions in more cases - even for people who admit to having carried out serious crimes - comes in the wake of repeated attempts by ministers and senior judges to persuade the courts to send fewer criminals to jail.
The crisis of overcrowding in UK prisons has also prompted moves to let many more convicts out earlier.
It emerged last month that some violent or sex offenders, given mandatory life sentences under a "two-strike" rule, have been freed after as little as 15 months.
The latest move provoked condemnation yesterday from Tories and critics of the justice system.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "Yet again the Government is covertly undermining the penal system and throwing away the trust of ordinary citizens that criminals will be punished and punished properly.
"In the last few weeks we have witnessed a serial failure of Labour to protect the citizen, with murders of innocent people by criminals variously on early release or probation, and now we're finding that ever more serious crimes are not being brought to court at all."
Criminologist Dr David Green, of the Civitas think-tank, said: "They appear to have given up making the court system work and doing anything about delays and the deviousness of defence lawyers.
"This is part of the wider problem that the Home Office has an anti-prison bias. But while they regard prison as uncivilised, they don't seem to care whether the alternatives work or not."
The Home Office circular to police forces has been sent amid a Government drive to reduce the number of cases coming before the courts.
A number of crimes - notably shoplifting - are now regularly dealt with by fixed penalty notices similar to a parking fine.
A whole range of offenders who admit traffic and more minor criminal offences will in future have their cases "processed" by new Government bureaucracies rather than by the courts.
At the same time judges and magistrates have been bombarded with instructions from the senior judiciary to send fewer criminals to jail.
Burglars and muggers should be spared prison more often, courts have been told, and last week sentencing authorities ordered a further "raising of the custody threshold" to keep out of prison more offenders who would in the past have been given up to a year in jail.
The new instructions to police on how to keep criminals out of the courts altogether are given in a 'Gravity Factor Matrix'.
This breaks down offences into four categories, with the most serious rated as four and the least serious as one.
For criminals over 18, who admit offences ranked at the third level of seriousness, the instruction is: "Normally charge but a simple caution may be appropriate if first offence".
Officers dealing with those who admit level two crimes are told: "Normally simple caution for a first offence but a charge may be appropriate if (there are) previous convictions or appropriate to circumstances."
The Home Office said the guidance had been circulated nationally because there had been regional anomalies in the way offenders were dealt with and these needed to be removed.
A spokesman said: 'Cautioning in individual cases is an operational matter for the police and Crown Prosecution Service.
"'The new circular firstly provides up to date guidance on the use of cautions to encourage consistency across the country.
"Secondly, with the introduction of statutory charging, the guidance needed to clarify what the effect would be on police responsibility for cautions. Finally the guidance was introduced to outline the practical process of administering a caution."
Cautioning was used heavily in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly for juvenile offenders under 18.
Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard cracked down on cautions in 1994 because young thugs and thieves were getting repeated cautions but no punishment.
But cautioning for adult offenders is now on the rise. Dr Green said: "The Home Office is missing its target to achieve a set number of offenders brought to justice. But it seems they regard a caution as an offender brought to justice.
"This is a nod and a wink to police forces - deal with your cases by cautions and we will hit our target."
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Let burglars off with caution', police told (UK anarchy alert)