A quick guide to Adult Cautions under The England and Wales legal system

Cautions are widely used by the police and Crown Prosecutors as an alternative means of disposing of certain offences without recourse to the courts. Other bodies such as local authorities also operate a caution scheme as an alternative to prosecution.

24 Aug 2018
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What are cautions and when do they apply?

There are two types of cautions, simple cautions and conditional cautions. They are usually given to first time offenders for low level/minor offending. The more serious the offence, the less likely it is that a caution would be appropriate.

Simple cautions

In order for a caution to be issued the following criteria must apply:

  • You are 18 or over

  • There is evidence to charge

  • You have admitted guilt of the offence

  • You agree to be given a caution

Conditional cautions

Unlike a simple caution, a conditional caution has certain conditions attached to it which must be accepted and complied with in order to avoid prosecution for the offence committed.

Ultimately, whether a simple or conditional caution is issued is a case by case decision after considering various factors of the case.

How cautions (simple and conditional) are handled, and are they considered a criminal conviction?

If you accept a caution, it will be recorded against you on the Police National Computer. It is therefore likely to be disclosed by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) as part of a standard or enhanced disclosure certificate, in the event of an application for employment in a particular type of work, such as working with children or vulnerable adults, or as part of a visa application.

A caution is not a criminal conviction. Therefore, if a person with a caution is asked whether they have a criminal conviction they can properly say no. However, if they are asked whether they have any convictions or cautions they will be required to declare it.

What happens if you do not accept the caution (simple or conditional)?

Usually a caution is given because there is sufficient evidence to charge but the circumstances of the offence means that a caution rather than a charge is more appropriate. Therefore, if you do not accept the caution (for example, because you deny the allegation) and there is sufficient evidence to charge you, you are likely to be charged with the offence and the matter will proceed to court. If found guilty by the court, you will have a criminal conviction on your record and also be sentenced for the offence.

Will cautions (simple and conditional) always show up on a DBS check?

Although cautions remain on your record for life, there is a filtering process under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) England and Wales) Order 2013, which removes protected cautions in respect of certain offences for example common assault, theft (where no violence is involved), and possession of class B drugs. Once removed, they will not show up on a disclosure certificate so long as certain conditions are met.

If you have accepted a caution and have concerns that the caution was not issued properly, or your record inaccurately shows that you accepted a caution for an offence when in fact you did not, you can make an application to contest this and request for its removal from your record.

What can you do if you are issued/offered a caution (simple or conditional)?

It is important to get advice from a solicitor as soon as possible before reaching a decision on whether or not to accept a caution for the following reasons:

  • It may not be necessary to accept a caution on assessment of the evidence. This is because it may transpire that there is insufficient evidence to charge and the criteria for issuing a caution have not been met.

  • An acceptance/rejection of a caution may have implications for your future/career depending on your career path.

  • The type of offence for which the caution is being offered will dictate whether or not it is one of the offences eligible for filtering.

  • For conditional cautions, the conditions attached to the caution offered may or may not be appropriate.

If you happen to have already accepted a caution, you may also want to seek legal advice on the possible implications.


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