The answer to the question “Is a police caution serious?” depends on what you mean by “serious”.
Obviously a police caution is not as serious as life imprisonment, or being subject to high value confiscation proceedings, but a caution does have some consequences, which depending on your circumstances, these can be serious.
Once a caution is issued it is immediately “spent” – save for a conditional caution which is generally spent after 3 months.
What does being spent mean?
Being spent essentially means that it will not show up on a Basic DBS check. This does not however mean the police caution will not show up on a standard and enhanced DBS check. For more details on the different types of DBS certificate, please visit here: Can you appeal a DBS check?
The police can then disclose this caution on Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks when you apply to work in sector that requires a higher level of trust such as law, finance or working with children and vulnerable adults.
Can a police caution affect travel?
A police caution can impact travel outside the EU – it is unclear post-Brexit what the position will be for UK nationals traveling to the EU.
Many countries require you to provide the police with an ACRO police certificate when applying for a long term Visa or Citizenship. A police certificate will reveal your past criminal record, for more details regarding ACRO police certificates please visit here: What is an ACRO Police Certificate?
Can I go to America with a caution?
The strict letter of the law requires all police cautions to be disclosed to US authorities as they consider a police caution to be a conviction. Your caution will therefore make you ineligible to apply for a visa waiver (ESTA) and you will be required to attend at the US embassy for an interview.
The USA considers some cautions more serious than others, police cautions for the possession or supply of drugs, or ABH, will be considered to be convictions for offences of “moral turpitude” which will make you automatically ineligible for a Visa. You will then have to go through the waiver of ineligibility procedure.
For details about what UK criminal records the USA has a right to see, please see here: Can United States of America Immigration Officials see my Criminal Record?
Police Cautions and the sex offenders register
If you have been, or are going to be issued with, a police caution for a sexual offence then you may be put on the Sex Offenders Register for two years.
Not all sexual offences require automatic notification and it will depend on the circumstances. For example with respect to sexual assault, if the offender is over 18 at the time, but the complainant is between 13 and 18 – then the notification requirements will apply. Similarly if you are given a caution for the possession of indecent images of children, and the child is under the age of 16, then the notification requirements will also apply.
Police Cautions and Re-offending
A police caution can be mentioned at Court if you were to re-offend and be taken as evidence of “bad character”. The caution therefore could make it more likely that you would be convicted of a criminal offence if you were to re-offend.
Having a police caution will also make it less likely that the police would consider you eligible for a caution if you were to re-offend.
It is possible for people to receive multiple police cautions, however this is increasingly frowned upon and if you are rearrested, particularly if your caution was recent, then you stand a greater risk of being charged with a criminal offence.
You cannot be given a police caution if one has been issued in the previous two years unless there are exceptional circumstances as determined by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. For more details about the police cautioning procedure, please visit here: How is a police caution issued?
Police Cautions and DBS Barring
It is also possible that when you receive your police caution, this information will be referred to the DBS to consider you for a barring decision. Alternatively if you are not referred, but you subsequently apply for an enhanced DBS check, it is possible the DBS will consider placing you on the barred list.
Whether you are considered for a DBS barring decision will depend on the type and nature of the offence.
Will the police tell my employer about my police caution?
The police do have powers to disclose a police caution to an employer depending on the type of offence and your employment. The police will exercise their power to disclose where there is a “pressing social need”:
So is a Police Caution Serious?
So in answer to the question “Is a police caution serious?” it really depends on what your priorities are.
If you do not plan on working in any profession that requires a standard or enhanced DBS check, and you are not concerned about the possible travel implications of a police caution, then perhaps a caution is not that serious – and might be considered a “slap on the wrists”.
If however you do work, or plan to work, in a trusted profession, or work/live overseas, then a police caution will not be a simple slap on the wrists.