LEGAL EAGLE: “Should I accept a police caution”

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I was interviewed by the police for an allegation of theft and I did not have a solicitor. I have now been asked to go back to the police station to accept a caution. Is this correct? I didn’t think I had done anything wrong and told the police that.

When the police are investigating whether someone has committed an offence they can impose a simple adult caution or a conditional caution as an alternative to bringing a prosecution at court.

 These will typically be used in cases where the person accepting the caution is a first time offender and the offence is a low level offence.

 Accepting a caution involves signing a document stating you are responsible for committing the offence and some details of the offence.

 If you are accepting a conditional caution it will also specify the conditions you must satisfy, for example, paying compensation.

 Before the police administer the caution there are a number of criteria that should be satisfied.

 Firstly you should have made a clear admission of responsibility for committing a criminal offence.

 The police should also be clear that there is sufficient evidence to result in a realistic prospect of conviction if the matter was to be brought to court and that it is in the public interest to conclude matters by way of a caution.

 If you do not believe you have committed a criminal offence you should seek legal advice straight away. The High Court has previously ruled that in situations like this your solicitor should be able to obtain a copy of your interview with the police and to listen to what has been said.

 Only by doing so is she likely to be able to advise you whether or not it is appropriate to accept a caution. Once you accept a caution it will remain in the police records and it will be extremely difficult to challenge the caution.

 You should be aware that if you do not accept the caution there is a risk that the police will charge you with a criminal offence and court proceedings will be initiated. Equally if you accept a conditional caution and fail to comply with the conditions then court proceedings will be initiated.

 If you plead guilty or are convicted at court the sentence could be much more severe than if you had accepted the caution. As such it is vital you take legal advice without delay.