This is the reason why thousands of offenders in Lancashire have avoided criminal sentences since 2014.
Across the UK, people have escaped prosecution for offences as serious as child sex abuse, grooming, kidnapping, knife crime and drugs trafficking, the BBC has found.
Their investigation found that nationally, since 2014, police forces across the UK have resolved more than 400,000 crimes with "Community Resolutions" (CRs).
But in response to the BBC’s findings, many police forces have insisted that CRs are appropriate for certain serious crimes, highlighting examples including child exploitation cases that relate to youngsters ‘sexting’ each other - or ones issued for sex offences to teenagers engaging in sexual activity with each other.
“Guidelines are in place to help with the decision about whether a community resolution is appropriate," a spokesperson for Lancashire Constabulary said, "but in every case the decision will be victim-led and will reflect their views and wishes above all else."
So what is a "Community Resolution"?
- Community Resolutions are an out of court disposal designed to tackle less serious offending and anti-social behaviour.
- They are not convictions, do not appear on criminal records, and will not be disclosed in a standard DBS check.
- They are designed to help young, or first time offenders make amends for their actions without criminalising them.
What are the guidelines for a CR to be put in place?
- Offenders must admit responsibility and agree to make amends through apologies, by paying damages etc.
- Victim consent should be sought - but is not always needed.
- Agreements between victims and offenders are voluntary and not enforceable by police, “in all but the most exceptional circumstances”.
- Forces should use scrutiny panels to regularly review their use of CRs.
- They should not be used for domestic abuse cases involving ‘intimate partners’.
How have Community Resolutions been used in Lancashire?
- Lancashire Constabulary recorded 409,890 crimes between 2014 and 2018.
- CRs were the outcome of 15,888 (or 3.87%) of those recorded crimes.
- CRs were issued for 27 cases of burglary over the four year period.
- They were issued in two cases of rape of a female child under 13.
- A CR was also issued in 1 case of kidnapping.
What do Lancashire Police say?
A Lancashire Police spokesperson said: “Community resolutions, including restorative justice, offer clear benefits to both the victim and offender, and give police flexibility to deal with a variety of offences effectively."
“Guidelines are in place to help with the decision about whether a community resolution is appropriate, but in every case the decision will be victim-led and will reflect their views and wishes above all else."
“While community resolutions are mainly used to deal with less serious offences, there are times when it may be appropriate to use informal resolutions to deal with more serious cases."
“Victims of crime say that meeting the offender can bring them a degree of closure, while going through a restorative justice meeting has also been proven to have more impact on an offender than a prison sentence or court punishment alone, as they see the consequences of their actions."
"This often has a positive effect on their future behaviour."
“We have specially trained officers who work with victims to offer a resolution to their case that they are satisfied with."
"This will involve carefully assessing the specific circumstances, taking into account the relationship between victim and offender, and crucially, the vulnerabilities of the victim."
What do critics say?
Referring to the nationwide statistics, a spokesman for the charity Victim Support, said:
“Community resolutions can be effective for dealing with low level offences, as long as the views of the victims have been firmly taken into account."
“However, the fact that they are being used in cases where a serious offence has been committed, such as a sexual offence, is seriously concerning."
“It is wholly inappropriate to use them in these cases as it means that victims are denied the justice they deserve, and the public could be put at risk if violent and sexual offenders are not receiving a criminal record."
And Chris Henley QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said:
“What is clear from the figures is that contrary to their original purpose, and the very clear guidance given to the police, CROs are being used to deal with more and more serious offences."
"This shouldn't be happening."
“Sadly, this is all about a lack of resources, that the police and CPS are struggling to cope with the consequences of years of savage cuts."
“The number of CRs issued in serious cases has increased significantly as funding has fallen dramatically."
"This lets down both the current and future victims of serious crime.”