Cautions – Adults

Cautions – Adults



We have covered the news story from February 2013 as to whether rapists were being ‘cautioned’ by the police instead of being prosecuted, but what is a caution?

In general, it is a way of marking minor offending behaviour, without having to take the offender to court.



Historically, this was an ‘extra statutory’ process – there was no basis for it in an Act of Parliament. It probably developed from Police Officers dealing with people (particularly youths) where they felt that a strong warning was sufficient to stop future offending.

A caution can only be considered if

  • The suspect has made a clear and reliable admission (in practice this would be in a police interview);
  • There is a realistic prospect of conviction;
  • It is in the public interest to offer a simple caution (so it is not necessary to prosecuted); and

The police are supposed to consult with a victim (if there is one) before offering a caution. If there has been a caution (or youth equivalent) in the previous two years then generally one won’t be administered unless the offence is trivial.

The police will not make a decision until after an interview. They may give an indication that a suspect is suitable for a caution but should not promise that one is given.

These will typically be given for shoplifting, graffiti and minor public order offences. They won’t be given for rape or serious violence unless there is something wholly exceptional case.


Can you get legal advice before accepting a caution?

This will normally happen in the police station therefore if I have exercised your right to legal advice (and you’d be mad not to have done) you will have a legal representative present there who can advise you.


What are the consequences of accepting a caution?

It is important to remember that accepting a caution is admitting that you have committed a criminal offence. This means that you may have to declare it in any job applications and the provisions of the Sex Offenders Register will apply. Also, it is possible that there could be a private prosecution afterwards, but this is very unlikely.

For that reason, a caution is not a ‘quick’ way of dealing with things. It’s certainly better that going off to court and getting a conviction, but the consequences have to be understood.


If I have accepted a caution can I appeal?

Generally no. There is no appeal body as such, but you can Judicially Review a decision to administer (see R v Metropolitan Police, ep Thompson [1997] 2 Cr App R 49). This is a very expensive procedure and is hard to win. You have to show that something has gone badly wrong, such as there not being a proper admission. A good example from 2012 showing the issues involved, and the difficulty in winning an argument, see the case of Lee v Chief Constable of Essex Police [2012] EWHC 283 (Admin).


Once the caution has been administered is that it?

Yes. There is another sort of caution called a ‘conditional caution’. There is a separate page dealing with that (to follow).


Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. “Once the caution has been administered is that it?

    It is perhaps worth noting that the acceptance of a caution does not necessarily bar a subsequent prosecution. There have been a number of cases including later public and private prosecutions, which have made clear that a later prosecution may not be an abuse of process.

  2. I recently got a simple police caution for the possession of 1.2grams of a class b controlled substance, I’m 17. Does this mean I can’t go to America and are there any other things which this will restrict me doing?