Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Minor offenders say sorry to victims and avoid court

Offenders responsible for more than 4,000 crimes have agreed to apologise to their victims rather than be formally prosecuted through the courts.

New police powers have enabled officers to resolve, on average, more than 400 low level crimes - such as vandalism, theft and minor assaults - every month through the use of discretionary disposals.

Instead of formally pursuing minor crimes through the criminal justice system, officers can dispose of the case if the offender apologises to their victim and pays for any criminal damage up to a cost of £30.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board was told yesterday that 4,003 cases were dealt with through discretionary disposals in the last nine months.

Using this informal approach means officers are spending less time dealing with bureaucracy and paperwork, and therefore able to spend more time on patrol.

Officers are now spending, on average, two more hours on patrol during a 10-hour shift than they did two years ago.

The measures also help reduce the burden on the Public Prosecution Service and courts system.

Discretionary disposals are only used if the victim and offender agree to the approach.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said the use of discretionary disposals can ensure a faster outcome for the victim and increase public confidence in policing and the wider criminal justice system.

Mr Hamilton added: "The use of these disposals also helps officers spend more time out in communities by reducing the time spent completing paperwork for court."

Dr John Topping, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Ulster, said he believes this is a positive approach. He added: "It is giving power back to police officers. Many would say that officers have in the past been constrained by a target culture. I think this is a chance to give some power back to police officers and allow them to spend time pursuing what the public would perceive to more more serious issues."

Background

Police officers can now deal with minor crimes using discretionary disposals as an alternative to a formal criminal prosecution. If the victim agrees, a satisfactory outcome will be agreed with the victim such as an apology, reparation for the cost of damage repair etc. Discretionary disposals do not constitute a formal criminal record.