The social construction of formal adult cautioning by police: an ethnographic study

Spinks, Tony (2001) The social construction of formal adult cautioning by police: an ethnographic study. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]

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Since its official introduction in England and Wales during 1985, the formal cautioning of adult offenders by police has grown to become a significant mechanism by which certain offenders are diverted from the criminal justice system. Currently some 30% of adult male offenders and 45% of adult female offenders arrested by the police are dealt with in this way. Cautioning is a procedural mechanism by which the police, contingent upon their adherence to the provisions of national guidelines, can elect to deal with certain criminal cases by means other than prosecution. Instead, they can choose to 'divert' the suspect from the court system by administering a formal caution; signed for by the suspect; often accompanied by verbal censure by a senior police officer; recordable on centralised police criminal indices; subject to the allocation of a CRO (criminal records office) number and citable in any subsequent court proceedings as a previous finding of guilt. The official rhetoric of cautioning espouses the virtues of benevolence through the provision of a second-chance for first time and petty offenders, allowing them to turn away from further offending, as well as efficiency through the speedy and timely management and disposal of cases not considered to be in the public interest to prosecute. But the burgeoning use of formal cautioning by the police has created problems of inconsistency, inequity and misapplication through repeat cautioning and its inappropriate use in cases of serious crime such as rape and murder. The fundamental principles of cautioning have also been criticised for eroding a suspect's due process rights such as the right to trial, the right to have prosecution evidence rigorously tested through an adversarial process that secures the right to legal counsel, a process that demands proof beyond reasonable doubt and which is subject to external review through an appeals process. These safeguards are almost completely absent with cautioning. Furthermore, the mechanisms by which police cautioning decisions are regulated have also been found wanting following research that suggests that the national guidelines are poorly defined, non-prioritised and provide for excessive latitude for police decision makers. This research project is an investigation into both the theory and practice of formal adult cautioning by the police. At its centre is a two-year covert participant observational study of the police work-world and of the ways in which cautioning, as intentional social action, draws meaning from and can be located within this occupational culture. Building upon a comprehensive review of available literature and consideration of the methodological and ethical issues created by the research, the thesis sets out to examine the true nature of the cautioning of adult offenders by the police in its natural setting - the custody office - and uses data drawn from officer and suspect interactions as the basis for a detailed analysis of how, why and by whom cautioning decisions actually come to be made. From this analysis conclusions have been drawn and recommendations made concerning how this disposal method might develop in the future and how existing problems might be overcome leading to a new, more consistent and equitable system of cautioning.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: B. > Theses
Item ID: 13603
Depositing User: Adam Miller
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2015 14:41
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2021 16:46

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