5 Views of the Accused
5.1 As part of the evaluation, questionnaires were issued to a small number of accused arrested and detained by the police where they were known by police to have previously been released on an undertaking. These participants were asked to comment on previous cases where they had been given an undertaking (not on the current incident for which they had been arrested), and their responses were provided confidentially to the evaluation. Using this approach, a total of 11 responses were achieved and the findings are summarised here. It is important to stress that this small number of respondents will not be representative of the accused population overall, and so these findings should not be generalised too widely27 . What the data does provide, however, is an insight into the ways in which undertakings and the reforms may be perceived and experienced by this user group.
5.2 Almost all accused said that they had been notified of their release on an undertaking by the Sergeant in charge of the custody suite at the time of their arrest. This occurred mainly at the 'charge bar' or 'charge desk' although one respondent said that an officer had visited them in their cells to explain the procedure to them:
"Someone came to the cell to tell me I would be getting out to appear at a later date for court." [Accused]
5.3 When asked if they understood what being released on an undertaking meant, responses indicated that accused generally understood that it would mean "going to court at a later date". One person commented that it meant "being released from the cells" and another said that "it meant I got my freedom back." One other respondent commented that, for them, it meant "I would appear at court without Reliance [security] taking me". This suggests that the two main principles of undertakings were clearly understood, i.e. that it required people to attend at court in the future but that people were being liberated until that time. Only one person said that they did not know what it meant.
Perceived appropriateness of undertakings
5.4 Although some people felt that they should not have been charged at all, several respondents commented that they felt the use of an undertaking in their case had been appropriate because the offences for which they had been arrested was not a "bad charge". One respondent explained that:
"Yes, it was only a theft, it saved me being kept in." [Accused]
5.5 This shows that accused had similar views to the officers interviewed as part of the evaluation, in that undertakings were considered as appropriate for lesser offences. Indeed, one respondent explicitly stated that:
"I think it's a good thing, but not for a serious crime." [Accused]
5.6 Another comment provided by one respondent also hints that there may be support among this group for the use of undertakings for those who have proven themselves not to be 'a risk':
"It was right. I hadn't been in trouble for ages." [Accused]
5.7 This mirrors findings from the parallel victim, witnesses and public perceptions evaluation, as well as data collected from professionals for this evaluation, that shows support for undertakings where accused are not considered to be repeat or high risk offenders.
5.8 There seemed to be generally good awareness of the basic conditions of undertakings, i.e. to "stay out of trouble" and "to appear at court". As one respondent summarised:
"To appear at court and not do anything else wrong." [Accused]
5.9 One respondent described the basic conditions as being "the same as bail".
5.10 Overall, respondents indicated that they did not perceive the conditions of their undertakings to be difficult to stick to, and one respondent commented that they understood that there may be benefits attached to not breaching their conditions:
"It was not hard to stick to because they work to your benefit." [Accused]
5.11 Such a comment may suggest that accused understand that breach of conditions may result in punitive treatment when appearing at court, although it is not possible to say conclusively that this is what was intended by this statement. Interestingly, the victims, witnesses and general public perceptions evaluation revealed that some professionals and lay members of the public perceive that some offenders know the system so well that they are able to operate within it to their greatest advantage. Again, this statement may be indicative of this kind of system familiarity.
Breach of undertakings and conditions
5.12 Most of those who provided comments in relation to the perceived seriousness of breach of undertakings (and conditions) said that they thought that breach was and should be treated seriously. Indeed, many agreed that it should be treated as a separate offence. Comments included:
"I would have been straight back in so it is serious. I do think it should be an offence or people wouldn't bother going to court." [Accused]
There's rules, so I think it is serious. I think it should be a separate offence as we know the rules." [Accused]
5.13 Comments provided also suggest that the liberation attached to an undertaking was something that should not be taken for granted:
"You get a chance to get out, so it is serious and bit stupid to breach it. Yes, it should be a separate offence." [Accused]
"It should be serious. If you get the chance to get out, you should behave." [Accused]
5.14 Only one respondent said that they felt that breach should not be a separate offence and one other said that leniency was perhaps needed for those who fail to appear the first time:
"I think there should be a second chance to appear, and then after that be charged with it." [Accused]
5.15 In line with such comments, only one respondent said that they had failed to turn up at their court appearance, due to being "mixed up with the dates" and another said that they could not remember if they had attended court.
Time taken to appear at court
5.16 Overall, respondents had mixed views on whether the time periods between release and appearance at court had been appropriate. Some commented that a few weeks had seemed fine, but others said that they had wished it had been sooner. In two cases, the appearance had been just a few days following release and one of these respondents explained that this was "good because it was over and done with."
5.17 One respondent said that they had waited around a month, which they perceived to be "too long" for what they perceived as a minor offence and another said:
"It was too long. It should have been sooner to get it over and done with." [Accused]
5.18 Only one respondent raised concerns that if the appearance date was too far ahead they may be likely to forget about it, and only one suggested that the longer time period may have been personally beneficial:
"It was quite a while, which was fine. It meant that I had to be careful and behave." [Accused]
5.19 Overall, the consensus seemed to be "the quicker the better."
5.20 Responses from accused seem to show reasonably good levels of awareness of the reasons for undertakings and the conditions of their use. There were hints of support for their use for lesser offences and agreement with the principle that, for some more serious offences, their use was not appropriate.
5.21 Those who took part showed support for the serious treatment of breach of undertakings and conditions, especially given that the standard conditions were not difficult to comply with and allowed the privilege of liberation. Most of those who took part welcomed their freedom and also seemed to welcome a quick turnaround in getting to court.
5.22 Recognising that some people disputed their being arrested at all, and despite only small numbers of responses from accused, the feedback provided in relation to undertakings is positive and supports the views held by professional stakeholders.
Email: Carole Wilson
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