Written 2nd April 2013 by Olliers Solicitors

A review aimed at stopping serious and repeat offenders from escaping with a caution has been launched. The review will examine the way in which ‘simple’ cautions are currently used and will consider the need for any changes. The review will work closely with the police and other criminal justice professionals.

Out of Court Disposal

A simple caution is an out of court disposal given by the police to adult criminals when specified criteria are met. The Home Office Circular 16/2008 for Simple Cautioning requires that the following conditions are met before a simple caution may be administered by the police:

  • The offender has made a clear and reliable admission (either verbally or in writing);
  • There is a realistic prospect of conviction full Code test;
  • It is in the public interest to offer a simple caution; and
  • The offender is 18 years or more at the time that the caution is to be administered (Prosecutors should note that the Divisional Court held that when police were proposing to caution, the suspect was entitled to disclosure of material necessary to enable his legal advisers to assess the prosecution case and give informed legal advice as to consent (DPP v Ara, TLR 16 July 2001).


The review will scrutinize:

  • Existing guidance and practice;
  • Whether there are some offence types for which the use of simple cautions is generally inappropriate – and if so, what procedures should be adopted;
  • The reasons why multiple cautions are given to some criminals;
  • The difference in the use of cautions by police force areas and whether increased scrutiny is needed to ensure they are used consistently; and
  • The impact on individuals of accepting a caution including any potential impact on future employment

There has been recent criticism of repeat offenders receiving multiple cautions and some individuals receiving cautions for offences deemed too serious for a caution.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

“While we should not remove police officer discretion, the public and victims have a right to expect that people who commit serious crimes should be brought before a court. This review is a significant step to ensuring that cautions are used correctly and in the interests of justice.”

The review will report to criminal justice ministers by the end of May 2013. It remains to be seen what effect this review will have.

Ruth Peters

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