Cautions are set to be scrapped in England and Wales as part of an overhaul of out-of-court disposals.
Ministers want to replace existing disposals available to police officers, which include cautions and cannabis warnings, with a new two-tier approach requiring offenders to take one or more actions.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the revamp, which at the bottom-end would see offenders writing an apology to victims or repairing damages but could see more serious offences being fined, removes the “soft option”.
Three police force areas will trial the new approach over the next 12 months and if successful it will be replicated across the country.
The Justice Secretary said: “Under the new system we are introducing, offenders will face prosecution if they fail to comply with the conditions set by the police, so that no one is allowed to get away with the soft option.”
Conditional cautions, simple cautions, penalty notices for disorder, cannabis and khat warnings and community resolutions will be replaced by a new framework.
First-time offenders who commit minor crimes will face a new statutory community resolution, which could see an offender offering a verbal or written apology to the victim, making reparation, such as fixing damages, or paying financial compensation.
More serious offending will be dealt with by a suspended prosecution, which will have one or more condition attached such as a fine or attending a rehabilitation course.
As with the current system, police officers will use their judgment to assess an offence.
Staffordshire, West Yorkshire and Leicestershire police forces will trial the proposed system.
However, Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national prisons newspaper said iut was time to stop our justice system being used as a political football in run ups to elections.
Mr Leech said: “Of course there are examples where cautions have been given out wrongly, every system has its failures of practice, but they shouldn’t be allowed to damage the principle of the thing.
“What is undeniable is that cautions have played a large part in freeing up courts and prisons from minor offenders – and contrary to what Chris Gralyling asserts, cautions do actually have quite serious consequences; a criminal record for one.
“If all crimes should have consequences, as Grayling now insists, can we then see an end to MPs wrongly claiming over £100,00 on their expenses, like former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith did, where the only consequence to her was having to apologise to the House of Commons?” [see: http://tinyurl.com/yhxfqlo]