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The NPCC, in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service, has issued new guidance which restricts the use of informal out of court disposals for children and young people arrested for knife crime offences.
As before, the starting point for a young person aged 16 or 17 is that they will be charged unless there are exceptional circumstances which render a Youth Conditional Caution appropriate.
For young people under the age of 16, the starting point is that the matter will now be disposed of by way of a Youth Conditional Caution if admissions are made. Informal out of court disposals are now reserved for ‘truly exceptional’ cases.
However, a young person, of any age, will now be charged if they:
The prevalence of knife crime is deeply troubling and quite clearly needs to be addressed. However, it remains to be seen how effective the restriction on informal out of court disposals will be in tackling knife crime. The new guidance is particularly restrictive in relation to children; suggesting that if a young person has any history of offences of violence, an out of court disposal is unlikely to be available. This is particularly wide and could result in the unnecessary criminalisation of young people; particularly where the ‘history of violence’ has no relation at all to offending with weapons.
Further guidance is needed to empower decision making officers to use their discretion in cases which might be viewed as “truly exceptional.” It is hoped that the new youth gravity matrix, which the NPCC are in the process of finalising, together with the Youth Justice Board’s keenly awaited revised case management guidance on Out-of-Court disposals will assist in this regard. Both documents are expected to be less prescriptive and encourage case-by-case decision making.
Written by Sabrina Neves, Solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors