A quick fine by police instead of trip to court

The number of crimes punished directly by police in Norfolk using on-the-spot fines and cautions has overtaken those dealt with by court convictions for the first time, an EDP investigation has revealed.

The number of crimes punished directly by police in Norfolk using on-the-spot fines and cautions has overtaken those dealt with by court convictions for the first time, an EDP investigation has revealed.

Bobbies in the county are increasingly meting out "summary justice" in an attempt to clamp down on yobs, vandals and drunks. In the first nine months of this year more than 5,500 criminals were given instant fines or police cautions - amounting to about 20 a day. Meanwhile 4,600 offences were dealt with by magistrates and judges.

Norfolk's chief constable Ian McPherson said the figures showed officers were taking a tough stance on nuisance crimes while also slashing bureaucracy. But opponents include shadow home secretary David Davis who said a "slap on the wrist" did not constitute real justice.

Addressing Norfolk Police Authority, Mr McPherson said: "This is a really positive development which is freeing up officers to do exactly what the public wants: get out on the streets and fight the kind of crimes which make lives a misery.


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"Often if we charge somebody it can take up hours of police time and take months to go through the courts. And, at the end of it all, the offender may only get the same fine that we can give out on the street.

"This allows us to deal with offences swiftly and has resulted in some really successful outcome in terms of preventing reoffending."

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Fixed penalty notices allow police to hand out instant fines of up to £80 for petty offences including graffiti and public disorder.

According to Norfolk police it takes an average of nine hours for an officer to process a charge resulting in a court appearance whereas they can be back out on the street in 40 minutes if using fines and cautions.

When they were introduced by the Home Office in 2004, Norfolk police issued 351 fines in nine months. This has risen steadily each year as ministers increased the range of offences covered by the legislation.

Last year nearly 1,200 were issued but this figure had already been surpassed by September this year when 1,300 had been issued. At the same time the number of crimes dealt with by police cautions has jumped from 3,400 in 2004 to 5,300 last year.

This has resulted in a slight reduction in prosecutions meaning that instant justice is now used more often than traditional courtroom justice. The figures do not include traffic offences.

Nationally there has been a similar pattern with Ministry of Justice figures showing a 2pc fall in convictions which now account for just 49pc of "offences brought to justice".

But Conservative MP Mr Davis said that such a trend suggested justice was being watered down. He also claimed half of offenders failed to pay. "Real justice involves offenders being prosecuted, punished and rehabilitated," he said.

Enver Soloman, of the Centre for Crime and Criminal Justice Studies, King's College London, said such an increase may simply be perceived as an inflation of figures rather than an increase in actual justice.

"In reality more people have been needlessly caught up in the criminal justice system net while there has not been an increase in convictions. Whether this state of affairs corresponds with what the public consider justice seems at best to be a moot point."

However, a Ministry of Justice spokesman backed Mr McPherson's stance saying the use of cautions reflected the government's ambition to deal quickly and effectively with low-level offending.

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