A police caution is an alternative means of resolving a minor criminal matter by which the police, in return for the suspect’s admission of guilt, agree not to proceed to prosecution.
A caution is not a conviction but it is an admission of criminal responsibility. Cautions form part of a person’s criminal record and may be referred to in future criminal proceedings.
Cautions are often presented as a convenient way for a suspect to quickly dispose of an allegation of low-level criminality. However, accepting a caution can have far reaching implications which need to be considered carefully before making such a decision.
It is possible to challenge cautions after they have been accepted in circumstances where the police have acted beyond their powers. Anyone wanting to do this should seek specialist legal advice.
There are two types of police caution – simple and conditional.
A simple caution is a formal notice issued by the police to deal with low level offences usually committed by first time adult offenders. A conditional caution can only be authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service and requires an offender to comply with requirements such as paying compensation to a victim or issuing an apology.
The police can only issue a simple caution in the following circumstances:
In some circumstances, a caution can be a positive outcome for the suspect. It can offer those responsible for a criminal offence a quick and equitable way to accept responsibility and move on with their lives.
However, it can sometimes be the case that suspects feel pressurised to accept a caution which is not always in their best interests. This pressure is often most keenly felt at the police station, in circumstances when a suspect may be tired, frustrated and confused.
Anyone who refuses a police offer of a caution should be aware that their case may proceed to prosecution. But no one is obliged to accept a caution and everyone has the right to receive legal advice before deciding on the best course of action.
A caution is recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) where is it accessible to every police force in the UK. A caution can be referred to in any future criminal proceedings.
A simple caution is considered spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 immediately. This means it will never be disclosed on a basic criminal record check. A conditional caution is spent when the prescribed conditions are met, for example when compensation is paid, or after three months whichever is earlier.
However, anyone who works, or is seeking work, in – a role which requiring a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check (such as, for example working with children, vulnerable adults or applying to be a police officer) will need to disclose a caution unless it is eligible for filtering.
Filtering is the process by which cautions for some minor offences are removed from an individual’s PNC record. eligible, a caution will be filtered or removed from standard and enhanced DBS certificates after six years for adults (two years if the caution was received under age 18).
There are other circumstances when a caution may need to be disclosed. These include:
Cautions can be a quick and simple way for time-pressed authorities to dispose of what might otherwise be labour intensive criminal matters. As such, the police can sometimes rush to issue cautions despite the fact that one or more of the required conditions have not been met.
For example: it is unlawful for the police to issue a caution where a suspect has raised a defence. This is true regardless of the police’s assessment of the plausibility of that person’s account. Anyone who has been issued with a caution, but who has not made a clear and reliable admission of guilt, may be able to challenge the caution.
A successfully-challenged caution is automatically removed from the PNC and cannot be disclosed under any enhanced DBS check. Anyone seeking to challenge a police caution is advised to seek specialist legal representation.
Deciding whether or not to accept a caution can be complicated and stressful. Hickman & Rose can provide the legal expertise and assistance to make the process easier.
Our expert lawyers are able to assist at every stage of the caution process, from advising on potential consequences, to making representations to the police and/or CPS that a caution should be administered, to challenging to imposition of a caution.
We also have a proven track record of acting for clients in a significant number of successful challenges to cautions and can advise on whether there may be a basis on which a caution can be removed, together with the prospects of success.