In order to offer a proportionate response to “low level” offending, the police will routinely offer a caution (known as a ‘simple caution’) where an individual has made an admission to certain categories of criminal offences. In many instances accepting a caution is sensible, but some people may do so far too hastily, just to curtail the unpleasant experience of being in police custody. Others may agree to a caution if they are led to believe that the alternative is a prosecution.
For a suspect, accepting a caution can sometimes be a sensible decision as doing so results in a quick resolution which allows them to move on with their lives.
However, cautions are not consequence-free ‘slaps on the wrist’ and may not be the best option for everyone accused of a minor offence. There is growing evidence that cautions can have devastating and unforeseen effects on the lives of individuals long after the offence in question.
They can sometimes be accepted too hastily by suspects who want to quickly curtail the unpleasant experience of being in police custody or who may have formed the erroneous impression that failure to accept a caution will inevitably lead to prosecution.
Hickman & Rose work at the forefront of this area of law. We specialise in representing clients who wish to challenge cautions and have achieved many successful outcomes on their behalf.
A police caution is an ‘out-of-court disposal’ which means that their administration is not governed by statute but instead by Home Office guidance.
Certain conditions must be met for the police to issue a simple caution. Primary amongst these conditions is the requirement for a clear and reliable admission to all of the elements of the offence under investigation. There must also be sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction if the case were to go to court.
This usually means that an individual has made certain admissions during a formal police interview, where their responses have been recorded. Bear in mind however, that any admission does not necessarily have to be provided in the context of a formal interview; it could, for example, be sufficient for the police to rely on a notebook entry signed by the suspect.
Although a simple caution will be immediately “spent” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, a record will be maintained on the Police National Computer and, subject to certain limited legislative safeguards, will be disclosed on criminal record certificates issued by the Disclosure and Barring Service, the body that conducts criminal record checks.
In some cases, the Protection of Freedoms Act will minimise the circumstances when cautions must be disclosed by filtering historic cautions. Regardless, there remain a range of exempted offences where older cautions will still be disclosed on a DBS certificate. In other circumstances, a caution can also affect someone’s ability to travel abroad, particularly to the US.
Accepting a caution may also have ramifications for professionals. Doctors, lawyers, regulated financial practitioners and armed forces personnel who are cautioned may face separate investigations and ensuing disciplinary proceedings. The quandary for professionals is that if they are subsequently convicted after refusing to accept a caution, a disciplinary committee is likely to factor a lack of realism and remorse or, in some cases, even dishonesty into its deliberations.
Once a caution has been accepted there is no formal right of appeal. This means that any legal challenge will normally require an application for judicial review.
However, the first step for anyone wishing to challenge a caution will usually be to make use of the relevant police force’s internal review process. Nowadays, forces have a process where they will ordinarily conduct an internal review of any caution that is challenged. Where it is determined that the caution was administered in error, the force has the power to expunge it from both its internal records and the Police National Computer. The process can be very time-consuming and needs careful submissions as to both the law and the facts.
The prospects of successfully challenging a caution depend entirely on the facts of the matter in hand. In certain circumstances, it may be possible to argue that a full admission was not made or, perhaps, that a defence was raised, thus invalidating the process.
Hickman & Rose specialise in this area of law. We can provide the necessary expertise and can usually give an indication from the outset as to whether the facts in question may be suitable for challenging a caution.