Since then, he has stated that the “incident was dealt with by the police and I accepted responsibility for my actions at the time. I regret this matter in its entirety and the position in which I put my former partner and I now ask that her privacy be respected.”
What is a caution?
We have a factsheet on what police cautions are, which sets it out in more detail. It is important to note that this required there to be a prima facie case of assault and that Mr Ruffley had made an admission to the police of his guilty.
Further, it has to be determined that it is in the public interest to prosecute. In practice, the police will always hold that to be the case in domestic violence cases as they take it very seriously. This is a serious matter for him.
As was said in Caetano “Although sometimes referred to in terms of a slap on the wrist without serious consequences, that is not so. The declaration which anyone who accepts a caution has to sign makes that clear. Dr. Caetano’s position illustrates it. She is not yet certain of her future employment. She may wish to work in the United States or Australia. She has to attend conferences all over the world. A caution for ‘assault by beating’ could be a serious impediment both to travel and work”.
Having said that, it is surprising (to us at least) that Mr Ruffley was cautioned. The CPS Policy on Prosecuting Domestic Violence states “In cases of domestic violence, if the evidential stage is passed and the victim is willing to give evidence, we will almost always prosecute, even if, for example, the injury was minor or the parties have reconciled. Police guidance states that cautions by police officers are rarely appropriate in domestic violence cases“.
Given that Mr Ruffley was a high profile individual, we would have thought that the police would have erred on the side of caution and Mr Ruffley would have been charged.
Can he still be an MP?
There are petitions calling for him to resign as an MP. However, a police caution is no impediment to him continuing until the next election, at which point (if he is still maintained by the Conservative Association as the candidate) it will be up to his constituents to hire him or fire him.
The law is contained in s1 Representation of the People Act 1981. Mr Ruffley is not required to resign from the House of Commons and is not barred from seeking election again.
s1 states :
A person found guilty of one or more offences (whether before or after the passing of this Act and whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere), and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained indefinitely or for more than one year, shall be disqualified for membership of the House of Commons while detained anywhere in the British Islands or the Republic of Ireland in pursuance of the sentence or order or while unlawfully at large at a time when he would otherwise be so detained.
So, anyone who is in prison and serving more than 12 months cannot stand for election. If a sitting MP gets more than 12 months, then by virtue of s2 their seat will be vacated and a by-election called (there are also exemptions for people who are convicted of electoral offences).
It is clear that there is no legal impediment to Mr Ruffley remaining as the representative of the good folk of Suffolk.
Should he stay as an MP?
That’s a different question.
There are actually good reasons why a criminal conviction shouldn’t bar anyone from standing for Parliament. It’s a democracy and it’s up to the voters who they want. Also, 1 in 5 people in the UK have a criminal record, and that should not, of itself, preclude them from being a Parliamentarian.
If there was a recall mechanism, then it may be that this would be triggered and the voters would decide. As stated, it’s the voters that should call the shots on this one.