First time shoplifters and thieves could face just a warning from police

First-time offenders caught shoplifting, in possession of drugs, or stealing could now receive just a caution from police, it has been revealed.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will publish a draft code of practice today aimed at governing how police respond to low-level offending.

The guidance is part of Government efforts to end a patchwork of cautions, warnings and penalties used to deal with minor crimes.

The draft code of practice will aim to provide stricter guidance on when and how police use the measures as part of the two-tier caution system introduced last year, the MoJ said.

The new framework includes ‘diversionary’ cautions, where a breach of the conditions can result in prosecution, and ‘community’ cautions, where a breach can result in a fine.

It was reported that police would be given a list of summary offences – which can be proceeded against without a jury – for which first-time offenders should receive a caution instead of being sent to court.

Shoplifting, minor thefts, criminal damage and assaults are also included, it was reported.

More serious crimes such as possessing an offensive of bladed weapon will be excluded, the MoJ said.

Offenders must admit their offence to be eligible for the new cautions, meaning they accept responsibility for their actions and engage with their punishment, the department said.

Both types of caution must be issued with one or more meaningful conditions focusing on rehabilitation or direct restitution to the victim or the wider community.

This could include targeted unpaid work such as cleaning up graffiti, drug treatment courses or a compensation payment to the victim.

The MoJ hopes the system will help steer people away from criminality by ‘nipping it in the bud’ while dealing with serious and persistent offenders in the courts.

Justice minister Damian Hinds said: ‘The current system for these punishments has grown unwieldy and has led to inconsistencies in their use.

‘This simplified system will ensure victims see justice being delivered, better nip lower-level criminality in the bud and guarantee the most serious offenders always face the full glare of the courtroom.’

A consultation launched on Wednesday will set out the draft code of practice which, once finalised, will provide guidance to be used by police, Crown prosecutors, and other authorised bodies.

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