Pubdate: Thu, 10 Dec 2015
Source: Herald, The (Glasgow, UK)
Copyright: 2015 Herald & Times Group
Author: David Leask


Change in Approach to Petty Offending to Ensure Major Crimes Are the Priority

PEOPLE caught with small quantities of cannabis will face on-the-spot 
warnings from police rather than prosecution.

The change in enforcing drug laws is part of a major overhaul of how 
officers handle petty offending to free up the time of police and prosecutors.

Scottish officers will next month start issuing new "Recorded Police 
Warnings" to many of the tens of thousands of people a year found 
committing minor offences, such as carrying cannabis, urinating in 
the street or petty shoplifting.

Senior police sources stress they are looking for a "proportionate" 
and "effective" disposal to the kind of offences that until now would 
either result in a fixed-penalty notice or a report to the Crown 
Office that ended in no proceedings or a fiscal warning.

The change in tactic means that, for the first time, casual users of 
cannabis can expect to avoid the stress of a formal report to 
procurators fiscal.

In recent years, this has rarely resulted in more than a written rebuke.

One source said: "We think a warning on the spot  from an officer 
using his or her discretion  is much more effective than a letter in 
the post months later saying nothing will be done.

"This means that officers will not have to spend their time writing 
standard prosecution reports and can do police work instead."

The shift in approach is seen as an important boost for progressive 
drugs policies north of the Border and brings it into line with 
England and Wales.

The new recorded police warnings scheme, to be introduced on January 
11, replaces a series of adult police warnings used in different ways 
across the the old eight legacy police forces.

It is understood that only a "low thousand" number of adult warnings 
were issued every year in Scotland. None of them were for drugs offences.

The new recorded warnings will never be used for violent or sexual crimes.

Essentially, sources say, they are for the roughly 45 per cent of 
offences that, when reported to the Crown Office, do not result in a 
full prosecution through the courts. The Crown bases its decisions on 
whether to prosecute on so-called "Lord Advocate's Guidelines" that 
are not in the public domain.

The Recorded Police Warnings will also rely on such secret guidelines.

It means insiders are unable to say exactly how much of cannabis 
would constitute "a small quantity".

In other jurisdictions, such as the Netherlands, there are clear and 
published rules on how much cannabis can be carried for personal use 
without risk of prosecution.

Law enforcement sources, however, stress that Scottish officers will 
be expected to use their discretion over how to treat somebody caught 
with, for example, a joint.

A user having a joint in a car or in the presence of children, for 
example, would be treated quite differently from somebody who posed 
no risk to others.

There were 31,632 recorded offences of "possession" of all kinds of 
illegal drugs, including cannabis, in Scotland in 2014/15 and more 
than 3,000 of "possession with intent to supply".

Crown sources stressed that the recorded police warnings would only 
apply to a small proportion of possession offences  and none for supply.

One drugs expert, briefed about the move by police, said the new 
approach was "commonsensical" and an important step towards 
proportionate enforcement of UK-wide "war on drugs" laws that are 
beyond the control of Holyrood.

Speaking generally about the scheme, Chief Superintendent Brian 
McInulty, of Police Scotland's criminal justice division, said the 
new warnings would "provide a consistent, swifter, more effective and 
efficient way of dealing with low level offences earlier in the 
process than the current processes allow for".

A spokesman for the Crown Office said the new system enabled 
procurators fiscal and courts "to focus on more serious crimes while 
giving police the range of powers they need to respond quickly and 
appropriately to very minor offences".
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom