Imagine the following scenario: You are walking down the street with $4,900 in a shopping bag, on your way to buy a used car. A man accosts you and, unceremoniously, punches you in the face. You stagger back, and the bag goes flying.

A police officer appears and, while he is detaining your assailant, you notice the shopping bag has disappeared. You turn the corner and see a man flipping through your stack of bills. The police officer detains him, too.

Both the assailant and the thief admit their guilt. But instead of making two arrests, the officer instead issues them a pair of written “cautions,” and advises them not to do it again.

Sound dramatic? Perhaps. But according to the language in a proposed bill now before local lawmakers, the above fiction could become reality in the Cayman Islands.

The Cautions (Adult) Bill, 2007, outlines a procedure for police officers to issue written cautions (i.e. formal “warnings”) to suspects – rather than their being arrested, charged and possibly convicted – who have admitted guilt to committing criminal offenses that carry potential sentences of less than four years … or, more worryingly, to certain specified offenses, including theft of under $5,000; handling stolen goods worth less than $5,000; assault occasioning actual bodily harm; and possession of a controlled drug (such as ganja) that is not a hard drug (such as cocaine).

Everyone knows the Cayman Islands court system can become congested, particularly with the constant inundation of relatively low-level offenders. It may not be an unthinkable idea to give police officers the power to issue “cautions,” which do go on a suspect’s police record and can be taken into account by courts when dealing with subsequent offenses.

That being said, it seems inconceivable for that discretion to extend to letting off someone who has stolen or fenced thousands of dollars of goods, or who has purposely injured another person through physical violence.

Our readers seem to agree. Here are some comments we received in response to the news story we published on the Cautions Bill:

  • “If this law is passed, Cayman’s lawmakers just upped the serious crime rate 100 percent. Guaranteed.”
  • “This is jaw-dropping news. Who is behind this crime-promoting, lawless society-fostering and tourist-deterring bill?”
  • “[O]ne of the widespread criticisms of the whole cautions system [in the U.K.] is that it’s open to abuse. In busy areas it’s always very tempting to offer the offender, quite often a repeat offender, the option of taking a caution to avoid being charged for an offense simply because it saves police time and resources.” (We have published the entire comment in full to the right of this column.)

We would go a step further than our commenters and state that, fundamentally, trying to ease pressure off the courts by giving police the option not to enforce the law, ad hoc, is an unsound strategy. If lawmakers wish to “decriminalize” certain behaviors, they should change the law accordingly — not create a new law making that behavior punishable by prison in some instances, and by a written caution in others, at an officer’s discretion.

But more to the point, if our courts are becoming too crowded, our court staff overwhelmed and our judges overworked, our alternative suggestion is to 1) build more courtrooms (a new and badly needed courthouse would even be better); 2) employ more court staff; and 3) hire more judges.

And then, repeat those steps for our prisons system.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Both the assailant and the thief admit their guilt. But instead of making two arrests, the officer instead issues them a pair of written “cautions,” and advises them not to do it again.

    And this is a ‘best case’ scenario …an example of how this proposed police caution law is supposed to work, in theory that it is.

    Let me highlight the worst case scenario…of how this system will ACTUALLY work in the Cayman Islands, if accepted and implemented.

    The spectre of POLICE CORRUPTION at the street level is almost inevitable.

    With the majority of RCIPS officers coming from countries, one in particular, where police corruption is rampant…and not being the highest paid of public servants themselves, you can guarantee that many of them will accept bribes from arrested suspects to avoid these police cautions.

    Not because the results of Operation Tempura found no police corruption at the highest level, means that there was no corruption in the RCIPS at beat officer level; some of know us as a fact, that there was and it is no coincidence that many rank-and-file police officers in the pre-Tempura era were either let go or transferred to other Government depts. as a result of this corruption probe.

    With an Anti-Corruption Commission and investigative unit in place now and working hard to identify, prosecute and convict corrupt public servants, and the recent convictions by the courts of police officers found to have broken the law…it should be quite evident that this proposed law has the capacity to undo all of the hard work being done to root out corruption in the CI Govt.

    It makes me wonder as to the motives of the law-makers who proposed this police caution law in the first place.

    They certainly do not seem to have the best interests of the Cayman Islands at heart.

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  2. I think that all the politicians in the LA needs lots of help . Politicians look at the mess that was made of the Immigration PR Laws by all of you . I am reading the same kind off mentality / thinking in trying to do the Police Caution Law .

    I would suggest that you Politicians get in touch with Sir Allen and ask him for help on drafting this Law .

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  3. I’m not going to get into the fall-out from Operation Tempura (which incidentally I understand is still quietly rumbling on!) but both this editorial and Mr Tatum’s comments are correct in raising serious concerns about this proposal.

    As the sidebar in the print edition doesn’t come up online this is the comment I posted in response to Feb 6 story –

    I can tell you from personal experience working alongside the police in the UK that Police Cautions (now being referred to as Simple Cautions as opposed to Conditional Cautions), which are normally decided by a duty Inspector, are handed out for crimes like handling stolen property, minor assaults, criminal damage, possession of drugs, possession of offensive weapons and theft including TWOK . In fact one of the widespread criticisms of the whole cautions system is that it’s open to abuse. In busy areas it’s always very tempting to offer the offender, quite often a repeat offender, the option of taking a caution to avoid being charged for an offence simply because it saves police time and resources.

    MoJ Guidance states that simple cautions are available for any offence although careful consideration should be given to the seriousness of the offence. Even ‘indictable only’ offences may be disposed with a caution subject to CPS approval. It’s a very wide-ranging option.

    In 2015 Parliament reported that 30% of ‘out-of-court disposals’ (cautions and on-the-spot fines) were applied inappropriately with crimes including sexual assault being dealt with in this way. There’s also been as issue about whether innocent people are being pressurised into taking a caution, which is a tacit admission of guilt, to avoid the risk of being taken to court for crimes they never committed.

    When you look RCIPS track record in recent months you do have to wonder just how this proposed legislation will be handled if it becomes law. Will some be let off because of who they are or who they know whilst others will still end up in court because they don’t have the right connections? Who will oversee it and make sure it’s applied fairly?

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