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Encyclopedia > Police caution

A police caution is an alternative to prosecution available to be administered by the police in the United Kingdom to less serious offenders.

The glossary published by the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales defines a caution as "A formal recording of guilt, given by a Police Officer, instead of a charge".

According to the Home Office, a police caution is a formal warning given to adults who admit they are guilty of first-time minor offences, such as vandalism or petty theft. According to the Magistrates' Association, a minor offence is one triable only summarily.[1] The modern concept of Small Office and Home Office or SoHo , or Small or Home Office deals with the category of business which can be from 1 to 10 workers. ... In the law of many common law jurisdictions, a summary offence (or summary offense) is an offence which can be tried without an indictment. ...

The purposes of a formal police caution are -[2]

  1. to deal quickly and simply with less serious offenders;
  2. to divert them from unnecessary appearance in the criminal courts; and
  3. to reduce the chances of their re-offending.

Cautions are not given to young offenders (those aged 17 and under), who instead are given ‘reprimands’ and ‘final warnings’. A reprimand is a police prosecution within the United Kingdom that is given to people 17 years and under who break the law and get arrested for the first time. ...

A caution is not a criminal conviction but it does result in a criminal record [3]. It is recorded on the police database and may be considered in court in the event of the offender being tried for another offence. The record will remain on the police database for five years along with photographs, fingerprints and any other samples taken at the time.

A caution is intended to act as a first official warning and to deter people from getting involved in crime.

As a result of changes made by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, cautions can be administered in two forms: as a simple caution or as a conditional caution, which has specific conditions attached that the offender must satisfy - attending a course aimed at targeting offending behaviour, for example. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 (2003, c. ...

Police and other Enforcement Agencies such as Local Authorities and Government Departments have the power to administer a simple caution, while conditional cautions can be administered by the police and by a person authorised by a relevant prosecutor. However, the Crown Prosecution Service has a role to play in helping the police to ensure that the Home Office Guidelines on the Cautioning of Offenders[4] are applied consistently and fairly. CPS officers are instructed to refer to the police any case in which they consider a caution is the appropriate way of handling the offence. Where the CPS remains satisfied that a caution is appropriate but the police refuse to administer one, the CPS guidance recommends that the case is not accepted for the prosecution. The Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS, is a non-ministerial department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for public prosecutions of people charged with criminal offences in England and Wales. ...

In order to safeguard the offender's interests, the following conditions must be met before a caution can be administered -

  • there must be evidence of guilt sufficient to give a realistic prospect of conviction;
  • the offender must admit the offence;
  • the offender must understand the significance of a caution and give informed consent to being cautioned.

Where the available evidence does not meet the standard normally required to bring a prosecution, a caution cannot be administered.

A caution will not be appropriate where a person does not make a clear and reliable admission of the offence (for example if intent is denied or there are doubts about his mental health or intellectual capacity).

The Home Office recommends that cautions should never be used for the most serious (indictable only) offences. However, cautions are given for indictable-only offences; the CPS suggests that this might be a result of the police issuing a caution for the offence that was reported or first suspected, rather than the offence that is revealed by the evidence at the end of the investigation.[5] However, a caution must be administered and recorded for the correct offence, that is, for the offence revealed by the evidence. In many common law jurisdictions (e. ...

The CPS goes on to say that it will only be in rare circumstances that a caution will be a suitable disposition for an indictable offence.

Cautions can be administered in the case of an offence that is triable either-way or summarily.[6] In English law an either way offence is one that can be heard in either a Magistrates Court or the Crown Court (with a jury), depending upon the choice of the defendant (who can demand a non-summary trial), or the magistrates (who can decline jurisdiction). ...


  1. ^  Response to Breaking the Circle: A report of the Review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, The Magistrates' Association, Criminal Justice System Committee.
  2. ^  Home Office Circular 18/1994
  3. ^  Crown Prosecution Service Legal Guidance
  4. ^  ACPO spokesman, quoted in BBC News item
  5. ^  Guidance to Police Officers and Crown Prosecutors Issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, section 9.1 "Where the police consider that the Threshold Test is met in a case, other than an indictable only offence, and determine that it is in the public interest instead to administer a simple caution, or to administer a reprimand or final warning in the case of a youth, the police may issue that caution, reprimand or final warning as appropriate, without referring the case to a Crown Prosecutor."

The Association of Chief Police Officers or ACPO is the lead organisation for developing police policy in the United Kingdom (except Scotland), and acts as a representative body for senior police officers. ...

Police Caution

“You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence”



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