police lanternCautions are sometimes referred to as a ‘slap on the wrist’. This can be a damaging misconception. Although accepting a caution avoids direct punishment and the ordeal of going to court, it has its own long-term consequences that can impinge upon your personal life and career in ways that are often overlooked.

Nearly 400,000 cautions were issued by police across England and Wales over the last two years (here). These cautions were added to the Police National Computer that is searched by the Disclosure and Barring Service, the body that conducts criminal record checks and issues criminal record certificates to assess a person’s suitability for employment in certain roles.

A new filtering system has been introduced to reduce the circumstances when cautions must be disclosed partly as a consequence of a case known as ‘T. However there are a range of exempted fields where cautions will still be disclosed to prospective employers. Cautions will not be filtered if they relate to listed offences or have been issued to someone with a previous conviction. Cautions issued to adults within the past six years will also be disclosed and a shorter period of two years applies to police warnings issued to children under the age of 18. Though legislation allows individuals to not disclose ‘spent’ convictions to prospective employers (cautions are “spent” as soon as they are given), this does not apply in respect of certain regulated occupations, positions of trustand when someone works with children or vulnerable adults.

Being cautioned also has ramifications for established professionals. Doctors, lawyers, registered financial practitioners and armed forces personnel who are cautioned may face separate investigations and ensuing disciplinary proceedings depending on the alleged transgression. The quandary for professionals is that if they are subsequently convicted after refusing to accept a caution, a disciplinary committee is likely to factor in dishonesty to their determination.

Before the administration of a caution can be considered, there must be a clear and reliable admission to the offence in question. In practice, indications are often given before a police interview that a caution is likely to be offered in the event of an admission. An ‘admission’ can be interpreted very loosely in circumstances where police have monthly targets for ‘sanction detections’, which include cautions. Although it is a police requirement to ask people to sign a form setting out the implications of a simple caution, the use of varying formats across different police areas exacerbates the likelihood of inconsistent practice.

Although there is a risk of people foregoing legal advice and accepting a caution for an offence they did not commit, there are also pitfalls for those who do accept legal advice. With the ongoing decline of legal aid, the quality of legal advice available at police stations is patchy at best. These factors can result in suspects not raising a defence to the allegation that is in fact available to them or perhaps not realising that they have raised a defence during interview. In the absence of proper legal advice, a suspect arrested on suspicion of a minor assault may accept a caution far too readily without realising that by raising self-defence it renders the matter unsuitable for caution.

There are many instances when accepting a caution is the most appropriate course of action. There are also occasions when individuals accept police cautions far too hastily to curtail the unpleasant experience of being in police custody. Even with the introduction of the filtering system it is vital to appreciate that a caution from the past can still disproportionately encroach on your future in a range of different ways. Anyone who believes they have mistakenly accepted a caution should seek early legal advice. Depending on the circumstances, police cautions can be overturned but swift action is normally required. Individuals are often unaware of the significance of accepting a caution until it resurfaces unexpectedly at some future event when it is too late to initiate a legal challenge. It is only at this stage that realisation dawns that a caution can be much more than a mere slap on the wrist.

Profile photo of Stefano Ruis About Stefano Ruis
Stefano is a partner at Hickman and Rose Solicitors. He specialises in civil actions against the police and has advised on many successful challenges of police cautions as well as disclosures made on enhanced criminal record certificates. Stefano also advises on police complaints and challenges to IPCC decisions

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5 Comments

  • Sharon Crossland AIRPM September 8, 2014 11:27 am

    This was a very informative article. I have had a number of dealings with the police as a result of massive problems caused by anti-social tenants and their visitors. Whilst I have been arrested, I have always been on the receiving end of a counter claim and have never been cautioned.

    However, there’s one event that really did concern me.

    My partner is the freeholder of the block of 22 flats in which we both live and I am the manager. 18 of those flats are sublet.

    At the beginning of 2013 both myself and my partner were arrested and held in a police cell overnight on charges of him assaulting a child and me shouting racial abuse.
    It all kicked off by my partner seeing a couple of strangers and some children hanging around at the rear of the property and we were already on a ‘state of alert’ in that a fireworks display was being held close by and our block is a magnet for trouble at the best of times.

    We went down to see if they were looking for someone on the block but we were told to go away in not the politest of terms. They were subsequently asked politely to leave the premises which they didn’t like and so they started hurling abuse at us. The younger of the two women then started sreaming that my partner had assaulted her mother and her child and she was screaming so loudly for someone to call the police that she gave cause for some stewards at the event to the scene! Someone called the police, (I don’t know who) but I thought that at least it would soon be dealt with for what it was. Some hope! My partner was arrested on the spot and after following him to the police custody suite and realising there was nothing I could do as he could be in there for hours, I returned home. I was arrested myself 3 hours later on a racial abuse charge. Three police offers attended, I was cuffed in my own living room (hands behind my back, not in front which made me feel like Public Enemy No 1) read my rights and taken down to the police van. The second floor show of the evening!

    I was extremely distressed and angry although with a supreme effort I remained calm though I could not stop pacing up and down whilst I was being booked in. I was photographed, finger printed and a DNA swab taken. I asked for my partner to be advised that I too had been arrested and used my right to a solicitor whom I spoke to on the phone before I was placed in a cell for the night.

    In fairness the police looked after me really well, providing me with coffee (I declined the offer of food) books and blankets. I had access to the nurse at 4am because I have lower mechanical back pain and hip bursitis and needed painkillers as the stress and the ‘bed’ had aggravated both conditions.

    My solicitor attended around 10am the following morning and I totally denied the charge. In fact when he read out the full sentence of what I was alleged to have said which was to have called them ‘black bitches and that they needed to ‘f**k off back to where they came from’, I was absolutely gobsmacked!

    I then asked what rights did I have under the circumstances but it appears that at this point I didn’t actually have any. I could be arrested on a false and malicious charge of racism but could not lodge any counter-protest or complaint in immediate response.

    After relaying my side of events on recorded interview to the investigating officers about an hour later, I was finally released on police bail to re-appear on the 25th January as was my partner.

    On going back a bit further on the CCTV on our return, my partner discovered that in fact these women had not entered any of the flats visiting a sick relative as they had claimed but had been to see the seriously alcholic tenant of one of the flats which they later told the police.

    Of course there was no case to answer for either of us but it wasn’t going to be pursued on our behalf as it wasn’t in the public interest!

  • marie February 3, 2015 3:27 pm

    hi ended up taking a caution for giving my dog 1 kick up the arse had vet saying it wasn/t suffering and cctv analysis saying the evidence was corrupt but the pps would not drop the charges. pure blackmail. and then when u complain about them not following their codes they twist it and say you took the caution therefore you are guilty

    • Beyonce November 7, 2015 6:38 pm

      You idiot you KICKED your dog guilty as charged, let someone (wish it could be me) kick you up the ass you silly silly idiot see how you like it. HONESTLY

  • Tourmaline May 29, 2016 5:20 pm

    This article is depressingly true…

    I have just been pressured into accepting a caution for a horrible offence – possession of a class A substance. I had no idea it was on my person (it was a long forgotten spec of dust in a old jacket pocked I had inherited from a friend over a year ago. I should have obviously thrown it away immediately but I just forgot it was in there until this dreadful night almost a year later). I just couldn’t believe it was going to be taken too seriously given the amount that it was (literally nothing) and given that I even requested the drug test because I knew it would show that I hadn’t taken any either but to this particular police officer, it didn’t matter that it was clearly not for consumption (i.e hardly anything there to take) and that I was clearly not on drugs either.The circumstance didn’t matter; all that mattered, is that there was some little bit of evidence. So I was arrested.

    In the van the arresting officer was telling me not worry – as long as I had no priors, I would be fine (and I have never even had a warning before). So i thought I would literally just get a warning. A few hours in a cell later and my solicitor (which my arresting officer tried to dissuade me from getting) finally arrives and tells me i would just get a ‘slap on the wrist’ and i just had to accept my responsibility but that everything would be fine. In fact, 2 police officers and my solicitor said that I would be fine and it was nothing serious. I guess at this stage I thought a caution was just a warning…

    My solicitor did then tell me it would show up on an extended CRB check (not that I’m ok with that, because I want to work with young people in the future, but at least it didn’t mean I would be blacklisted for most other jobs as well) and he went on to then say that I was getting upset over nothing. I therefore went along with the caution a bit reluctantly and no one really discussing the alternative with me.

    When it finally came to being actually released however, I read the small print when signing some notice about my caution and it said that the caution would also come up on a standard CRB check?! When I questioned this, the arresting police officer and his colleague on the desk started to be get VERY short with me. I explained that what my solicitor had told me just before and what this form was implying were contradictory and I had a right to query this as it could have potentially devastating consequences to my career. I was then told ‘what did I expect to happen if I broke the law; to walk out with a flowers?’. My point was obviously that I was being told contradictory things but the officers just became more irate and made further jokes in bad taste.

    I called my solicitor and he said he had made a mistake about the caution not showing up in a standard CRB and said he would represent me if I wanted to go to court, but I’d basically have to get the friend whose old jacket I had to testify. He urged me to sign the caution and I felt like that was my only choice – and by this point I think it was. The officers were making it quite clear that if I didn’t sign it, I would be charged and I didn’t understand what this would mean apart from it sounding worse.

    However, what was not explained to me (having followed up with some free legal advice) is that I do not actually have to disclose my caution (as it is immediately considered spent) unless having an extended CRB check. This is outlined in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 2008. So in fact, in seems my solicitor was right in that regard. Well I hope he was.

    I can only hope now that this doesn’t affect my future employment prospects or potential travel because of one stupid mistake. I think the potential consequences (ruining your career or preventing you from travelling to certain places) for your first ever offence is disproportionate.

    Having a better understanding of my rights now, I would have longed it out and got a lawyer not affiliated with the police station who would have perhaps pushed for a formal warning – which the police officer could have done considering I have absolutely no prior convictions. I don’t remember being read my rights (i think I was calling over to a friend at the time and letting her know what was happening) so I didn’t exercise my right to remain silent as I should have done – and been encouraged to do. When I said, ‘it’s an old jacket I’d got from a friend and i forgot it was in there’ this was admission of guilt. Perhaps remaining silent wouldn’t have changed anything, but it is still something I should have exercised. They led me to believe ‘this would all be sorted out quickly, I basically just had to accept this ‘slap on the wrist’ and I could get out of there’. I think they would have struggled to get a conviction through though given that I had no prior offences, came up clean, and the tiny amount it was but I only know this now, having had the chance to come home and get advice.

    I thought, you never know, writing my story here might help someone else one day – which I hope it does.

  • R henshal June 3, 2016 6:52 pm

    Hi my daughter was attacked and punched in the face 5 times by a local lad we chased him home as he ran in his dad shut the door! After making g a scene the father said the lad was not home after saying he was after 5 mins he said come in take a look,we entered the hallway his mother came out and offered us coffee,we said look want hes done and where is he they had let him run through we turned and left.we Ra g the police and he was charged with the assault and admitted it got community service. Now his parents have said my daughter smashed plates and I threatened to kill him when we were in the house we have made statement and not the cps have said we are to be given police caution. We have done nothing wrong but they rang the police first and made these salivation before we rang the police knowingly that we were going to ring them. Do you think we should just take the caution or not as we feel we did nothing wrong! Thanks for any advice.

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