Throw “Caution” to the Wind


Accepting a Caution  – An admission of guilt sometimes with no evidence presented.

I remember a conversation I had with my son a few years ago about the routine stop and searches that he and his friends had been subjected too from his mid teens till early 20 ‘ s. Or when they were old enough that one of them had a car and they weren’t walking from A to B. The tone of the conversation was that this was normal.

We recently revisited this conversation when talking about knowing your rights with his sister and some friends. I knew about the stop and searches but this time what came to light was the amount of cautions accepted by the group for really really small violations or none at all. From teenage drunken arguments to the smell of marijuana and being searched to find chip’s of half smoked joints. Not unusual teenage behaviour that most teenagers grow out of. They accepted these cautions without question. Being picked up in the wagon, charged and processed at the station being told how this would result in far reaching consequences. Criminal records, loss of job prospects, their parents disappointment etc etc. So when you 18 and being intimidated by authority worried about what parents would do being offered a caution presents itself as a “get out of jail free card ” A caution should not be offered until there is an admission of guilt but we know that is not the case and often are offered for an admission of guilt as the favourable punishment.


This summer at an activist camp I carried out a know your rights works shop in which one of the key messages is “Do not accept a caution”. when a man approached me afterwards and said he thought the training was invaluable and wish he had come across it a few years ago. The man was a retired probation officer and  had left when he had no fight in him left and how the system did not look out for the welfare of these minors and went on to tell me how  the majority of his case loads had arrived on his desk because of the misuse of cautions. He was based in the North where unemployment was the norm. boredom, no youth clubs, social and mental health issues, alcohol and drugs created the no hope social makeup. What he found was that cautions were used as a form of control and given to people for associations.  This was normal practice and by the nature of young people none would grass on a friend and silence was seen as guilt and collective punishment was used in the form of cautions for all. This isn’t the worst part of it it actually gets more sinister. His cases were a lot of young people that had been “known” to the police from this kind of policing and what was happening was when an arrest occurred and the youth went to court the cautions were used to prove bad character and therefore guilt by supposed previous behaviour. By the very fact that they had been issued made you guilty and a habitual criminal and the offender was more likely to be detained. So for some of his cases they had harsh sentences for what could in fact be a first offence. By the very act of accepting a caution, an admission of guilt with no evidence provided fast tracked them into the penal system. He said he saw it time after time.

There is no statutory basis for the formal caution, it is a discretionary procedure adopted by the police under home office guidance. A caution offered usually means they have little or no evidence to be able to charge you for the offence of which you are being accused and get a conviction. The police use cautions to pump up their crime result statistics and a caution should really never be accepted. (The exception to the rule of course is if your solicitor advises otherwise). But that’s the other thing most of these teenagers don’t assume solicitors to be on their side and rightly so as most Duty solicitors do not have the best interests at heart either and will advise this “Problem teenager”  to accept the Caution as the easiest option. Police are increasingly using cautions against people that don’t know the law. With the changes in legal aid and court costs sometimes no lawyer will be present at all and the result is people going to prison for next to nothing or nothing at all. Cautions do create repercussions, unlike a conviction a caution is never spent and can be used against you at any time. Cautions can ruin peoples lives.

We need to be teaching our teenagers is “No Caution” ” No Duty Solicitor”. The criminal Industry is creating an income from our teenagers and their best interests are furthest from their minds.

Keep your hands off our teenagers and stop criminalising them for your statistics and financial gain.

The other side of the coin is that cautions are also being used for serious crimes such as violence and rape. Now what message is that sending out?  A fucked up one.

The Hampstead Mum

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