Police restorative warnings in Scotland
Guidelines for the Police
PROTOCOL FOR POLICE RECORDED WARNING SYSTEM FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS (appendix 3B of Blueprint for the Processing of Children's Hearings Cases)
It is a fundamental policing principle that in upholding the law police officers may exercise their discretion. The Police Recorded Warning System for Juvenile Offenders maintains that principle, but draws a distinction between an informal warning where no further action is taken, and a formal warning which is part of a more structured system agreed by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration and which applies certain criteria in relation to juvenile offenders. This document therefore deals only with formal warnings under the Police Recorded Warning System for Juvenile Offenders and is applicable throughout Scotland.
It is recognised that most first time offenders do not go on to re-offend. Diversionary procedures might therefore exclude 'first time offenders' from referral, under strictly controlled criteria. This will not only benefit the child but will allow stretched resources to be more appropriately concentrated on individuals who have embarked upon repeating offending patterns. It is widely accepted that the police are empowered to warn individuals who commit minor offences. This, however, has to be balanced with the need to ensure that the Reporter is alerted to all instances where a child is considered to be at risk or in moral danger.
As an alternative to mandatory referral to the Reporter, it is not only desirable but necessary that the police should be able to warn first time offenders, who pass appropriate filters, if the system of justice for young people is to act on the basis of need and not deed when considering the best interest of the child.
The Scottish Police Service therefore adopts a 'child centred' approach in dealing with juvenile offenders and will operate flexible procedures, which treat children as individuals and not 'cases' while recognising the rights of parents. The needs of the child offender will at all times be a primary consideration with less emphasis on the deed unless the offence is of a particularly serious nature.
Subject to a child meeting certain criteria, and early telephone contact having been made by the police officer in charge of the case with the local Reporter, then a police warning may be administered. The purpose of contact with the Reporter is to allow the Reporter the opportunity to check whether the child or his family is known and whether a referral might be more appropriate. This in any event would not preclude the police from administering a warning.
The following are the criteria referred to above:
- Minor crime offence.
- No previous offending or referral.
- No welfare concerns.
- Child admits the offence.
- Parents accept admission.
- Parents consent to warning.
Police offenders administering warnings should address the following issues with the child and parents:
- Child to take responsibility for own actions.
- Impact of actions on the victim.
- Impact of actions on community described as a 'very uncomfortable process'.
The effect of a recorded warning system is that a large number of juvenile offenders previously referred to the Reporter to the Children's Panel are no longer referred in this process, allowing the Reporter Service to divert more precious time and resources to the cases most in need.
When juveniles are warned in this manner a crime report is still to be submitted to record the crime and in addition details of the warning should be recorded for future reference.
In order to contribute to the concept of speedier justice for juveniles, recorded police warnings should take place within 14 days of the offender having been cautioned and charged.