Rapists and child sex offenders will no longer receive a ‘slap on the wrist’ under a review of the use of cautions and other out-of-court disposals, the justice secretary has announced.

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference this week, Chris Grayling (pictured) announced a ‘radical overhaul’ of the police use of ‘simple’ cautions – administered when people admit the commission of a criminal offence, but for which they receive no punishment or rehabilitation and for which they do not have to go to court.

Cautions are recorded on an offender’s criminal record.

In the 12 months to December 2012, 167,758 cautions were issued to adults - 493 of which were for indictable-only offences. Offences for which adults received cautions included child prostitution and pornography, cruelty to or neglect of children and possession of indecent images of children.

Grayling announced that police guidance will be amended to ban cautions for all indictable-only offences, offences that must be tried in the Crown court including rape, manslaughter and robbery.

Cautions for possession of any offensive weapon, supplying class-A drugs and a range of sexual offences against children, including child prostitution and pornography, will be banned.

Grayling announced a review of the use of all out-of-court disposals for adults – including cannabis warnings, conditional cautions, penalty notices for disorder and restorative solutions – by the police.

He said: ‘Last year nearly 500 offenders who admitted committing some of the most serious crimes escaped with just a slap on the wrist. Quite simply this is unacceptable and unfair on victims.’

Grayling said that the use of out-of-court disposals can be ‘inconsistent, confusing and something the public, and victims, have little confidence in’. He said: ‘We are on the side of people who work hard and want to get on; if you break the law you will not escape the law.’

Policing and criminal justice minister Damian Green added: ‘It’s time we get tough - that’s why we are seriously clamping down on the use of simple cautions and reviewing all out of court disposals.

‘We need to sort this out once and for all if the public and victims are going to have confidence in the criminal justice system.’ Green said cautions can be an appropriate way for the police to deal with low-level offending, but said they are not suitable for criminals who commit serious offences like rape or robbery which can ‘ruin victims’ lives’.

Welcoming the change, the Magistrates’ Association said: ‘We hope that this government initiative will provide the general public and particularly victims with more confidence when all serious crimes are dealt with in public and in a courtroom.’

The association said it raised the alarm five years ago about the way these penalties were being used ‘inappropriately’. In a statement, it said: ‘The association looks forward to more realistic, consistent and open use of cautions in the future.’

Follow John Hyde’s live blog from the Conservative Party conference here.