Written evidence submitted by Transform Justice (VTR0011)



1. Transform Justice is a national charity working for a fair, humane, open and effective justice system. We have published reports on issues such as the use of remand for children, the use of police custody, and the quality of criminal defence advice and advocacy.


Comments on suggestions for a new offence and encouragement of prosecution of theft below £200


2. Transform Justice understands the need for retail workers to feel safe in their workplace and confident in reporting instances of violence and abuse on the job. We agree with the conclusion in the government response that there is not a good case for a new offence of assaulting a shop worker to be considered. However, we were disheartened to see the government response encouraging police-led prosecution of theft under £200.


3. Research shows that more punitive responses do not aid deterrence and can actually have higher reoffending rates than alternatives to prosecution. For the last quarter of 2018, the lowest reoffending rates were for those who had been given a caution – only 14% compared to 45% for those sentenced to custody.[1] Therefore, we encourage and support the preventative work proposed in the government’s response and suggest that out of court disposals, including rehabilitative programmes, be highlighted among the solutions considered for violence and abuse towards retail workers.


The case for out of court disposals/diversion from prosecution


4. Out of court disposals are ways of responding to crime without going to court, such as cautions and community resolutions. In addition to lower reoffending rates, studies suggest that out of court disposals can be as “satisfying” if not more satisfying for victims of crime than prosecution. A Birmingham-based trial of deferred prosecution found that as long as they had clear communication as to why diversion was suitable, victims were 43% more satisfied with out of court disposals than prosecution.


5. The government’s response noted that Some [retail workers and businesses] reported being advised by police not to report incidents of petty theft as courts would not deal with such incidents.” Increasing the availability of out of court disposals and improving public and police confidence in the use of these alternatives could empower victims to report offences and feel that their experiences are being taken seriously. This would also provide police officers with an appropriate means of responding to victims’ concerns.


6. Transform Justice supports the use of programmes that address the root causes of offending such as mental health and addiction, particularly for those who commit the same offences regularly. We also suggest that other out of court disposals, such as cautions, be considered for low-level offending, rather than resorting to an increase in police-led prosecution, as is called for in the government’s response.


7. Restorative justice can also be used as a response to address the harm of violence and abuse in a retail setting. Restorative justice is a process in which victims are able to meet the person who caused them harm and discuss the impact of the crime. It offers victims a voice and can be used at any stage of the criminal justice system, including alongside or as part of an out of court disposal. Studies have shown positive results for victim satisfaction and reduced reoffending following restorative justice processes.


8. Transform Justice has written about why prosecuting low-level crimes can be unproductive and contribute to a cycle of reoffending. One of the disadvantages of prosecuting habitual offences in particular is that it seldom makes a difference to reoffending and can instead contribute to a vicious cycle. Those who repeat the same crimes such as shoplifting are often vulnerable individuals with alcohol or drug addictions, or people who are very poor. If prosecuted and convicted, they are most likely to get a sentence of a fine. They are likely to struggle to pay the fine and the cycle continues.


Examples of good practice for diversion of retail crimes


9. Retail workers need to know that the harm done to them is acknowledged and that something will be done to make amends. Most victims just want the offending to stop, and out of court disposals offer a far more effective solution than prosecution. The relatively new conditional caution is used by police for lower-level crime where the accused admits guilt. Both the person who accepts the caution and the victim get a swifter resolution of their case compared to prosecution and the person who committed the crime must still fulfil their side of the “bargain”, which may involve paying compensation, apologising, and/or joining a rehabilitative programme. If the person has an addiction, this may be a golden opportunity for referral to or re-engagement with services.


10. Transform Justice has written about existing examples that showcase the positive outcomes of using out of court disposals for victims, businesses, and those who have committed an offence. In the Midlands, PC Stuart Toogood has pioneered a rehabilitation programme for prolific shoplifters that has garnered support from the Central England Co-Operative. PC Toogood’s programme is relatively expensive, but given that each prolific shoplifter may take goods worth £250,000 each year, if it works for a significant proportion, it’s cost-effective. These diversion programmes operate mostly under the radar, but victims who know about them are positive and such programmes have had good results in helping prolific shoplifters whose offending is driven by substance abuse turn their lives around.

11. However, Transform Justice is concerned that police may not have access to diversion options or may not use them as often or as effectively as they could. Having knowledge of and access to alternatives to prosecution could increase police responsiveness and satisfy victims’ desire to be heard, whilst tackling the root causes of offending and avoiding lengthy and often ineffective prosecution. Rather than assuming that more prosecutions will satisfy retail workers, the benefits of out of court disposals and rehabilitative programmes as well as victims’ responses to these alternatives should be considered and tested and police capacity for the use of out of court disposals should be increased.





12. Transform Justice agrees that violence and abuse towards retail workers is unacceptable. We support the collection of more data and development of responses that utilise out of court disposals to address victims’ concerns. Transform Justice is engaged in ongoing research to understand levels of victim satisfaction and public attitudes towards out of court disposals and has written a briefing on diversion from prosecution. We would be happy to discuss these issues and our proposed response in more detail.



January 2021

[1] MoJ Proven Reoffending Statistics: October to December 2018 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/proven-reoffending-statistics-october-to-december-2018