The Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR) and the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) regulate the way in which police forces record crimes. The NCRS basically states that police will record a crime ‘if on the information available at the time of reporting it is more likely that a crime occurred than it did not’.
The HOCR goes on to describe what type of crime should be recorded. Whilst this may seem unnecessary detail – I can assure you it is not – let me explain why.
You are walking home from the pub one night when you are the victim of an unprovoked attack due to mistaken identity. You are hit from behind by another man who smashes a bottle over your head shouting ‘Have this one from me’ this results in a large cut requiring 8 stitches. As a result you defend yourself by punching him once in the face. He suffers nothing more than a black eye. There are no independent witnesses.
Police are called and both of you are arrested on suspicion of assault. Whilst at this point you may think this is manifestly unfair – the officers who attend the scene are unaware of what has actually happened both parties allege the other struck the first blow. However, the subsequent investigation should allow them to determine who the assailant was and who the victim was. On the face of it, the arrest of both parties in these circumstances is not unreasonable.
Although under arrest, you are taken to hospital by ambulance to have your wound glued or stitched and then taken back to the police station. You are both interviewed and both admit to having had a drink and having struck the other – albeit it your blow was in self defence and to prevent yourself from further (and more serious injury). As far as police are concerned there are now 2 potential detections here – him for assaulting you – and you for assaulting him.
Your injury should be correctly recorded as ‘Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent’ (Sec. 18 Offences Against the Persons Act) and any decision regarding disposal should attract supervision by the Crown Prosecution Service – as this offence is so serious it can only be dealt with at the Crown Court. Your assailant’s black eye should be correctly recorded as assault occasioning Actual Bodily (Sec. 47 Offences Against the Persons Act 1861) this is less serious and can be dealt with without CPS ever being consulted.
However, if both crimes are recorded as ABH (Sec. 47) there exists the potential for you to be dealt with by police acting in isolation, without any independent oversight by the CPS. Unless you insist upon legal advice there is a risk that your admission that you struck the other guy may be viewed as enough evidence to justify giving you a Caution for ABH!
If CPS had reviewed the case they would identify that;
(a) You were the victim of a GBH not an ABH – CPS must therefore authorise that a Caution is the most appropriate way of dealing with your assailant. This is unlikely given that Cautions are intended to be used for less serious offences!
(b) The fact that you admitted assaulting the other guy purely in self defence, striking only one blow and having already suffered a serious injury yourself would not be considered a reliable admission upon which to Caution you.
I hope this explains why the way in which police record crime has a direct bearing on the sustainability of any detection recorded against you. If the evidence is reviewed by the CPS – they should take an objective view and determine;
(1) Whether or not there is a sufficiency of evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction – and
(2) Whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute.
If there is such a sufficiency of evidence (1) above, then the question of public interest is considered. If (1) is not satisfied no detection can be claimed.
However; if the investigation is never referred to the CPS then police alone will make all of these decisions.
Don’t forget – Police will get the same credit i.e. 1 x detection for a Caution as they would a Charge for GBH (assuming the CPS agree that there is a sufficiency of evidence and that it is in the public interest to prosecute) Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine the temptation to go for the easy option i.e. Caution both of you for ABH and achieve 2 ‘instant’ detections rather than run the risk of CPS advising that there just isn’t enough evidence to pursue a Charge.
In the case of criminal convictions, any conviction must be proven in a court of law. Not surprisingly there are a number of safeguards in place to ensure that everything is done fairly and in accordance with the law. It is the presumption of innocence and right to a fair trail that makes the legal system in the United Kingdom the fairest in the world.
The police must conform to a strict process to get you to court in the first place, including the circumstances of your arrest, your detention in a police station, the gathering of evidence (including the conduct of any interview), and the presentation of that evidence before the court. In a criminal court i.e. Magistrates or Crown Court, the prosecution must prove the case beyond reasonable doubt in order for you to be convicted. As you can see, the law puts in place a number of conditions at key parts of this process to ensure that your right to a fair trail is guaranteed and that your human rights are not infringed. Whilst there may be miscarriages of justice-they are comparatively rare-and when they do occur they receive a significant amount of coverage (rightly or wrongly) in the media-often following the successful appeal of the defendant – think of the Guilford Four, the Birmingham Six, Barry George, Colin Stagg etc.
Recording Case Disposal Decisions.
Whilst the audit-trail for cases appearing at court is ordinarily accurate and comprehensive, the same cannot be said for those cases dealt with as Out 0f Court Disposals.
The guidelines clearly state that all such disposal decisions must be properly recorded. These records act as an audit trail and control measure for supervisors and managers to ensure that appropriate decisions are made and that the reasons underpinning them are rationalised and recorded.
For example, police operational guidance in relation to Penalty Notices (PNs)s requires an officer who charges an offence for which a PN may be issued to record on the Form MG6 why the officer chose not to issue a penalty notice (Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, Penalty Notices for Disorder: Police Operational Guidance). Officers must make sure that all sections of a PN form are fully completed (if not the PN may be cancelled) or make an accurate record of any Cannabis Warning issued. This paperwork must be retained to ensure it can be referred to in the event that such a disposal is challenged-at court or elsewhere.
Audits and examinations conducted by forces themselves (often under the Force Crime Registrar) or HMIC have consistently evidenced that large numbers of these detections claimed as Out of Court Disposals are unsafe.