The aim of the research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is to conduct an empirically informed, critical socio-legal analysis of the policy and practice of conditional cautioning of adult offenders in England and Wales. These conditional cautions are one of a group of six currently available out-of-court disposals administered by the police and the CPS. The research will set out a normative framework on the use of conditional cautions, and then create original research data to explore how this is done in practice. The research focuses on the decision-making process used when administering these disposal types and the factors which are considered by authorised persons.The research comes at a changing time for adult out-of-court disposals, which may be replaced by a new two-tier system, comprising of a community resolution or a conditional caution. The project is therefore able to feed into the national policy debate on the future of out-of-court disposals. If appropriate, the research will also help identify promising practices or issues in the use of adult conditional cautions and communicate these back to the police forces involved.
Separated into three distinctive elements, the normative framework for the use of adult conditional cautions was first set out through a literature review of the legislation, Codes of Practice and Guidance surrounding conditional cautions, and other relevant policy documents. The second element is comprised of a quantitative overview of the use of adult conditional cautions in England and Wales through making a series of Freedom of Information requests to gather data on the number of conditional cautions used in each police force, as well as the offence types they were used for. As the Ministry of Justice currently collates statistics on simple cautions and conditional cautions, this data remain unseen by the public. Finally, the main focus of this research is to provide a qualitative grounded-theory exploration of how decision-making is carried out in practice. Case analysis will be carried out in three police forces with a varying use of conditional cautions, before conducting interviews with the relevant decision-makers to understand how the decision was made in practice and the factors which influenced their final choice of disposal to administer and conditions to use.