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What happens after you have been questioned by the police under caution?

It is important to understand the meaning of caution when it comes to police procedure. There are different uses of the term ‘caution’. In this article we’re going to explore the different meanings of caution, particularly in reference to police interviews.

It is increasingly common for the police to invite people suspected of committing a criminal offence for a voluntary police interview (also known as voluntary attendance, a Caution Plus 3 or a PACE interview).

The police may imply that they just want you to come to the station for a chat and there is nothing to worry about.

Never underestimate any interview with the police. The reason they want to speak to you is because they suspect you are involved in a criminal offence.

Being accused of a criminal offence is an uncomfortable and worrying experience. Few people, especially those facing a police interview for the first time, know how the system works nor the meaning of caution.

A voluntary interview under caution is an alternative to being arrested and then interviewed – i.e. an interview under arrest. But a voluntary interview is no less serious than an interview after arrest.

The consequences to you are the same either way. The difference is that for a voluntary interview the police are not obliged to provide you with legal representation. Nor do they have to hold you in a custody suite.

Before a voluntary interview, you must be cautioned otherwise nothing you say can be used as evidence in court.

Faced with the prospect of a police interview, you need to consider whether to attend the interview, which questions to answer and what to say.

Having expert legal advice and support throughout the process, and understanding the meaning of caution, can help you to make the right choices.

You should not attend a voluntary police interview without a criminal defence solicitor.

In brief:

An interview under caution is when you are questioned by police after being cautioned, in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

A police caution can mean the statement which is read to you before an interview under caution commences.

A police caution can also refer to the formal warning which police can issue to anyone who admits to committing a criminal offence.

meaning of cautioning

What is an interview under caution?

An interview under caution is an interview conducted after the police have issued you with the following statement or ‘caution’:

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

What is enshrined in these two sentences is the right to silence in order to protect someone from self-incrimination.

No-one who speaks to the police is under an obligation to answer their questions. The flip side is that a court might take a negative view of any refusal to co-operate or failure to mention something important. In other words, if you go to trial, a jury might not believe what you say.

What you say during an interview under caution will help the police to decide the next step.

An interview under caution can be voluntary at a pre-arranged time, or it can be while you are held in custody following an arrest.

Voluntary interviews under caution usually take place at a police station. They can also take place at your place of work or at your home.

Anything you say will be recorded and may be used as evidence in any future court action.

When you attend an interview under caution you have the right to request and receive independent legal advice. A specialist criminal solicitor will help you to understand the interview process and achieve the best outcome.

Having a legal representative with you will not make you look more guilty.

Our team of criminal solicitors is available 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Please contact us for any help.


What are the three rights at a voluntary interview under caution?

A voluntary interview under caution is also known as a Caution Plus 3 interview because the police are also required to inform you of the three rights you have.
These three rights are:

  • The right to free and independent legal advice. Once you have requested a solicitor the police cannot ask any questions until they arrive
  • You are not under arrest
  • You may leave at any time

When it’s a voluntary interview you are free to leave at any time. If you do choose to leave the police might attest you anyway and continue the interview under arrest. These decisions are best taken with legal advice.

It is most likely to be in your interest to co-operate and stay for the duration of the interview under caution.

Your rights at a voluntary interview under caution are different from those at an interview under arrest.

Before an interview in custody you will be told you have:

  • The right to call a friend or relative to let them know where you are
  • The right to seek medical help
  • The right to information about things like food and toilet breaks
  • The right to an interpreter
  • The right to free and independent legal advice.

What happens at a voluntary interview under caution?

The police might contact you about a voluntary interview under caution directly, by a phone call or by letter.

The best immediate course of action is to seek legal representation and discuss the matter with an experienced criminal defence solicitor.

When you turn up for the interview the police will escort you to a private room. If the interview is at home or at work, you should agree via your solicitor a location which you are happy and comfortable with.

During the interview, the police will ask a series of questions. You can choose to answer in full or say ‘no comment’ to any of the questions. You can select which questions to answer.

The police cannot put you under any pressure to answer the questions.

At any point you can ask to speak to a solicitor, even if you did not arrive with one.

It is very important throughout the interview process to be mindful of the consequences of what you choose to say – or not say.

Your solicitor will be able to prepare you for any likely questions and ensure you are properly prepared.

Anything you discuss with your solicitor is completely confidential. They are not allowed to discuss what you tell them with the police or anyone else. You must always tell them the full truth. That way they can always act in your best interest and help you to get the best outcome.


Why do the police invite people to a voluntary interview under caution?

Given that the consequences of an interview under caution are the same as an interview under arrest you might wonder why the police use them.

The main reasons the police invite people to voluntary interviews is lack of resources or lack of evidence. It may also be because the offence is quite historic.

It might be so the police can avoid the legal obligations which come with an arrest.

Because of these factors, the onus is on you to seek the legal support you are entitled to.


What are the advantages of a voluntary police interview?

Although the consequences can be the same, there are some advantages to being interviewed on a voluntary basis.

The main benefit is that you can agree a date and time for the interview. This will give you time to prepare for the interview with the help of a criminal defence solicitor. You can turn up for the interview feeling confident that you know what you’ll be facing and have the right answers.

The solicitor can ask the police why the interview is taking place and seek written disclosure of the allegations. Then you can collate any supporting evidence which might help you such as witnesses and alibis. A solicitor will determine whether it is helpful to prepare a ‘considered statement’.


What happens after you have been questioned under caution?

What you say during the interview will determine the next actions taken by the police. The officer who interviewed you will refer the case to their sergeant or evidential review officer.

Sometimes the case will need to be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide next steps.

The possible outcomes are:

  • Release you without charge, after telling you that no further action will be taken.
  • Release you on police bail, with the requirement to return to the police station at a certain time and date. The bail may or may not have conditions.
  • Release you under investigation. This is similar being released on police bail except there is no agreed time and date for you to return.
  • Issue you with a simple caution. This a warning to someone who admits committing an offence.
  • Issue you with a conditional caution. This is a caution with one or more conditions attached.
  • Issue a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND). This is a fixed penalty notice for certain minor offences like shoplifting, possessing cannabis or being drunk and disorderly in public.
  • Charge you with the criminal offence which you were being questioned about. To charge you there must be sufficient evidence for a realistic chance of conviction and the prosecution must be in the public interest.

What is a simple police caution?

A police caution can also mean the warning given to people who admit committing a minor crime. This is another meaning of cautioning. These cautions avoid the need to charge someone through a prosecution to try and get a conviction in court. Cautions save the government money by freeing up court time and resources.

You have the choice whether to accept a caution or not. This is a serious decision and should be taken with the advice of a solicitor.

Many people think that a caution is less serious than a conviction and it will not have any further consequences.

Cautions are registered on the Police National Computer (PNC) which can be accessed by police forces around the country – and remain on your record until you are 100 years of age.

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, cautions are immediately ‘spent’ but in some circumstance you must declare them.

Employers are entitled to run a check on your criminal record through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) when you apply for a job.

A simple caution will not show on a basic DBS check but will show up on an enhanced or standard DBS check for six years. This length of time is reduced to two years if you were under 18 at the time the caution was issued).

When applying for certain jobs, like working with children or vulnerable adults, cautions can continue to be disclosed even after that point.
They can also be disclosed when applying for a visa for foreign travel.

Employers can request:

  • A basic check (£18 and takes up to 14 days) which shows unspent convictions and conditional cautions
  • A standard check (£18) which shows spent and unspent convictions and cautions
  • An enhanced check (£38) shows the above plus any relevant information held by local police
  • An enhanced check with barred lists (£38) which shows the above plus whether the applicant is on a list of people barred from doing the role

People can only request a basic check for themselves.

The cautions for some offences (including common assault, non-violent theft, and possession of class B drugs) are removed through a filtering process and will not show up on a disclosure certificate if certain conditions are met. These are called protected cautions.

Cautions for more serious crimes are never filtered out and will continue to be disclosed, even after six years.

These more serious crimes include certain sexual offences, affray, GBH, ABH, child cruelty or neglect, robbery and supply of drugs.

After accepting a caution, you can legitimately say no to having a criminal conviction. If you are asked whether you have any convictions or cautions you are required to declare it.

What are the criteria for a simple caution?

To receive a simple caution, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be 18 or over
  • There be sufficient evidence to charge you
  • Have admitted to being guilty of the offence
  • Agree to being given a caution

What is a conditional police caution?

A conditional caution requires you to stick to certain rules and restrictions. If you don’t comply with the conditions the police are likely to pursue a conviction for the original offence.

Conditional cautions are offered by the police for minor offences. They can also be authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service for more serious crimes including hate crimes and domestic violence.

Most conditional cautions are requirement which can be completed in 8-12 weeks.

These might include:

  • fixing damage to a property
  • going for drug rehabilitation
  • paying a fine
  • writing a letter of apology

Should I accept a police caution?

The decision whether to accept a police caution is best done with the advice of a solicitor. Although a caution is distinct from a conviction, it can still have serious repercussions.

However, you do have the right not to accept a caution.

A solicitor may assess the evidence and draw the conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to charge you. They may decide that the criteria for issuing a caution were not met.

Your legal representative can discuss with you whether you think accepting a caution will impact your future career.

If you have been offered a conditional caution, your solicitor might feel that the conditions are not appropriate.

What if I don’t accept a police caution?

You should only decline the opportunity to accept a caution after great thought and with the advice of a solicitor.

The police will only offer a caution if they believe there is enough evidence to prove that you are guilty of the crime.

If you don’t accept the caution, and there is sufficient evidence, the police or Crown Prosecution Service are likely to seek a conviction through the courts. This would mean you will have a criminal conviction on your record and receive a sentence for the offence.

Can a police caution ever be removed from my record?

In some exceptional circumstances it is possible to have a caution deleted from the Police National Computer.

The first step is to try and to convince the police that the caution should be deleted. Your legal team will argue that the harm caused by the existence of the caution outweighs the seriousness of the original offence.

You will need to be able to argue that the caution was given unjustly, or you were misled by the police. Alternatively, you will need to demonstrate that you only accepted the caution to close the matter quickly.

If you fail to persuade the police to remove the caution, it might be possible to challenge their decision through a Judicial Review at the Administrative Court.


Do you require more information on the following topics?

What Constitutes GBH with Intent in the UK?

What is Affray and What Can You Do If You are Charged with Affray?

Charged with or Accused of Assault and Battery? What Are Your Options?

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