Justice: Pre-charge warnings by Police inconsistent - IPCA report

In a report released recently, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found - while the practice of issuing pre-charge warnings to offenders has had a number of benefits, they are being used inconsistently and sometimes inappropriately.

“There is also a lack of clarity about the extent to which pre-charge warnings should be given to offenders who have previously been convicted or received a warning or Police diversion. In some cases, warnings are given to offenders with substantial criminal histories,” said IPCA.

“The inconsistencies in practice are mainly due to the broad nature of the Police pre-charge warning policy,” said Judge Sir David Carruthers, the Chair of the Authority. “The policy needs to be revised to provide clearer direction to officers.”

The Authority also noted that pre-charge warnings are more likely to be given to non-Māori offenders than to Māori offenders. Statistics show that a much higher proportion of Māori offenders committing eligible offences have previous criminal convictions.
It also found that pre-charge warnings are a cost effective means of dealing with low level offending where there is sufficient evidence to prosecute but no public benefit in doing so. It is also more effective than prosecution in reducing reoffending by offenders who have not previously been before the courts.


In May 2015, in the context of a more specific complaint, a Police officer in the Bay of Plenty raised concerns about the way that the pre-charge warning policy was being applied locally. The Authority’s investigation into the officer’s specific complaint identified a number of issues with pre-charge warning policy and practice. As a result, the Authority undertook a wider review. In the course of that review, the Authority examined available statistics on the use of pre-charge warnings, and interviewed custody supervisors and front line staff in four Police districts about their perceptions of pre-charge warning policy and practice in their local area.