We are often asked; can a caution be removed after 5 years? The reason for this question stems back to previous disclosure rules that now only generally apply to ACRO Police Certificates. We still hear of police offices telling arrestees that their caution will be “removed” after 5 years, even though the rules changed many years ago. The reason for the faulty advice may be due to a lack of training, or it could be related to an officer’s desire to ensure compliance from a suspect. An officer may tell a suspect that they shouldn’t worry about accepting a caution as it will be removed after a relatively short period of time.

The reality is that cautions are not “removed” after 5 years.

The question you then to ask is what do you mean by “removed”, also from where are the records removed, and in relation to what purpose?

Can a caution be removed after 5 years?

The 5 year rule was originally set out in the Association of Chief Officers of Police (ACPO)’s General Rules for Criminal Record Weeding on Police Computer Systems and Code of Practice on Data Protection issued in 1995. These rules meant that certain cautions and convictions would be deleted from police systems after a period of time. For a caution, generally they would be deleted after 5 years.

Police Cautions and “stepping down” after 5 years

In 2004 the Bichard Report came out which made recommendations about the creation, review, retention, deletion and information sharing of such information.  In 2006, ACPO issued new guidelines for the retention of records on the Police National Computer (PNC) which replaced the 1995 guidelines; this provided for the retention of records until the subject reached 100 years of age, but with a process known as “stepping down” under which types of records would, after a given period, only be disclosed for police purposes or for enhanced disclosure.  Cautions were stepped down after 5 or 10 years depending on the severity of the offence.

100 Year PNC Retention Policy

In 2009 there was a court ruling, commonly referred to as the “Five Constables Case” that clarified whether records should be deleted from the PNC. The court decided that there needed to be a “complete record” of all arrests, cautions and convictions held on the PNC, and so that although records may not be disclosed after certain periods of time, they would not be deleted from the PNC until a person reached 100 years of age.

So can a caution be removed after 5 years?

Therefore, in respect to the question; can a caution be removed after 5 years, strictly speaking the answer is no. The caution will be retained on the PNC until the data subject reaches 100 years, unless the caution is deleted from the PNC.

The 5 year retention rule does still apply for ACRO Police Certificates for certain cautions. Cautions for more minor offences, such as low level assaults, will become “stepped down” after 5 years, but this does not mean the caution will be “removed” from the PNC. What will happen after 5 years is that the caution will no longer be directly revealed on the Police Certificate, but the Certificate will instead state “no live trace”. If you have never had a caution or conviction, your certificate will simply state “no trace”. A no live trace record can cause difficulties when it comes to immigration as many countries will enquire why a certificate says “no live trace” as opposed to “no trace” – the US and China being notable examples.

If your caution is for a possession of a class A drug then the step down period if 10 years, instead of 5.

Can a caution be removed after 5 years on DBS Checks?

The current situation in relation to adult police cautions and background checks is generally that they will not show on a basic DBS check (unless it is a conditional caution, and only for up to 3 months).

On a standard and enhanced DBS certificate a police caution will show for 6 years, and then become protected. If the caution is for an offence that is on the specified offences list (such as child cruelty/neglect, ABH, affray, sexual assault, possession of indecent images) then the caution will be permanently disclosable on a standard and enhanced check. On an enhanced check the police can still disclose information related to a protected caution after the 6 year period if they feel it is relevant to do so. For more details on when a police caution will be revealed, please see our police caution calculator.

Police Cautions and Removal after 5 years

The opinion that a police caution is removed after 5 years is a remnant from previous rules, rules that are still being repeated by some police officers. In truth a caution is retained until someone reaches 100 years of age (unless the caution is deleted) and will be subject to different disclosure rules depending on the check that is being done, and the type of offence the caution was given for.