MORE police cautioning is allowing offenders to get off scot-free, a leading Isle of Wight magistrate believes.
In the face of swingeing police budget cuts, the force’s current policy of dealing with criminality on the streets may have led to a huge reduction in the number of cases brought before Island magistrates, said top JP Philip Keen.
Fewer arrests, and handing out more cautions and fines, have left Island magistrates and solicitors concerned too many cases that normally fall under the judicial system are now dealt with more leniently.
The police disputed cautioning was on the rise, stating the number of cautions for Hampshire and Isle of Wight had actually decreased by 23 per cent over the past three years.
Constabulary figures for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight between April 2009 and April 2012 show the police issued 6,872 cautions for violence against the person, 81 for sexual offences and 1,141 for shoplifting, together with 4,261 fines for theft.
The sexual offences dealt with were concerned with offenders with no previous convictions but they may have included circumstances which involved people who were underage.
Mr Keen, who is chairman of the Isle of Wight bench of magistrates, said he had noticed a 'massive dip’ in court business over the past two years and has backed calls by the Magistrates’ Association for an inquiry into the police use of cautions.
"Either someone is doing a good job of preventing crime or people are getting away with it, which is the way it’s looking," said Mr Keen.
"The handing out of police cautions has always been a concern to magistrates.
"Business has been taken away from the court — cases that really are a job for magistrates. Cautions used correctly are a good idea for minor, non-violent offences but violence against the person should be dealt with by the courts.
"If I was beaten up and the offender was just given a slap on the wrist, I’d be far from happy as a member of the public."
Ryde solicitor Roger Merry said fewer arrests had led to 50 per cent less criminal business over the past two years, while Roach Pittis reported a 30 per cent drop, according to one of the firm’s solicitors, Keith Verrinder.
Ian Heal, president of the Isle of Wight Law Society, also believed there had been a marked rise in the use of out-of-court disposals. One concerned solicitor has requested custody arrest and disposal data from Hampshire Constabulary.
Jo Rowland, Hampshire Constabulary’s head of custody and criminal justice, said under current arrest policy guidelines officers were encouraged to consider whether or not offences required an arrest and CPS referral.