Cautions and reprimands

Got a police caution or reprimand? Not sure what it means? We're here to explain.

caution tape

What does a caution even mean?

If the crime you’ve committed isn’t that serious, the police may give you a caution or reprimand. Unfortunately, the consequences of this can last much longer than you might think.

What is a caution or reprimand?

A caution is basically the police’s way of telling you off. Reprimands are the name for the same thing but they’re only for young people aged 10 to 17.

You can be cautioned if police have evidence you’ve broken the law, but don’t think its bad enough to put you through the courts. This is classed as an official warning. But you aren’t being arrested and you won’t go to court.

When would police caution you?

The police officer must have evidence that you committed a crime, and they must think this evidence could lead to a conviction if it went to court.

You must admit to the crime and you must not have been convicted in the past of any other crime.

What happens when you’re given a caution or reprimand?

If you are reprimanded by the police it is normally because it’s the first time you’ve been in trouble and you have admitted to the offence.

If you’re under 18, the police officer must issue the reprimand in front of your parents, carer, or another responsible adult. This is done at the police station. You’ll be given a leaflet about the implications of a reprimand or final warning.

If it is your final warning the police will refer you to the Youth Offending Team. They will visit you to see if you should attend some form of rehabilitation for your behaviour.

Does a caution give me a criminal record? Do I have to tell employers about it?

A caution isn’t a criminal conviction and therefore it is considered to be ‘spent’ immediately under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

What this means is that if there is a section on an application form where it asks about unspent convictions under the Act, if you’ve received a caution, you don’t have to say anything.

Will a caution show up on a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check?

Although cautions are not classified as a criminal conviction, they will show up on a CRB check, especially an enhanced CRB. These are now know as Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS). Normally employers will take into account the type of offence and how long ago it happened.

If you want more information and advice about your criminal record, you can contact Nacro, which is a confidential helpline for people who believe their criminal record is having an impact on finding employment.

Can I appeal a caution if I don’t think it’s fair?

You can only be given a caution or reprimand if you admit to the offence – therefore you cannot appeal the decision.

However, if you don’t accept responsibility for the offence, you won’t be given one. This could lead to the police arresting you and taking you to the police station. And you may end up going to court.

The police mentioned restorative justice, what’s that?

Restorative justice means having the opportunity to make amends for your crime. It often involves meeting the victim to apologise and explain your actions.

Like a caution, restorative justice can only be given to you if you haven’t had any form of warning before.

For example – if you broke someone’s window, the police would give you the chance to apologise to the victim and offer to pay for the repair.

Will restorative justice show up on my record?

Restorative justice is preferred by the police as it shows you the impact of your actions; gets you to take responsibility for the crime; and allows victims to ask you questions.

Restorative justice doesn’t go on your record. It is only recorded on a crime report and therefore will not show up on any CRB checks or DBS checks in the future.

Are cautions being scrapped?

They may be, and a new system is being trialled in some counties in the UK. Existing cautions as we know them will be replaced with two new types of punishment. These ‘new’ cautions are:

  • The statutory community resolution – will deal with minor offences by first-time offenders. It allows victims of your crime to have a say in what your punishment should be. This could include writing an apology, repairing the damage you’ve done, or paying them a fine. These don’t stay on your criminal record.
  • The suspended prosecution – is for more serious crimes, and the conditions of your punishment are decided by the police. This can include larger fines, or having to attend a rehabilitation course. These do stay on your criminal record.

What if I don’t do what these fancy new cautions say?

If you don’t do what’s asked of you, you could face prosecution.

When do all these changes come into effect?

It’s already being trialled in Staffordshire, West Yorkshire, and Leicestershire. The trial started in November 2014, and will run for a year. If it’s successful, the new system could be rolled out soon afterwards.

However there’s a whopping big general election between now and then, and these changes could be altered, or totally scrapped, if a new government is elected.

Photo of caution tape by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Nacro offers advice and support if you have a criminal record, and can they can help you when it comes to telling employers. Ring their helpline on 0300 123 1999
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


legal| police

By Victoria Civil

Updated on 29-Sep-2015