A difference of legal opinion? Clarified?

The previous post, A difference of legal opinion? Appeared to be straightforward, but has ended up with some confusion, mostly down to the mixing of legal terms with more colloquial words. Especially so, in the case of Gerald Smith’s response to Hilda Jack!

The Councils Chief Legal Officer, Jacqueline Collins, used the following words of explanation:

“I understand that the situation arose in respect of leaflets which were produced for internal use by the Labour Party were inadvertently distributed to the public.  As Cllr Smith’s name was omitted from the leaflet he accepted  an informal caution from the Police. This does not count as a criminal record.”

Thought I would look at the Governments website next for illumination:


“Cautions are given to anyone aged 10 or over for minor crimes – eg writing graffiti on a bus shelter.

You have to admit an offence and agree to be cautioned. You can be arrested and charged if you don’t agree.

A caution is not a criminal conviction, but it could be used as evidence of bad character if you go to court for another crime.”

Further clarification, from the Ask the Police website, reveals a rather fuller explanation:

Q562: What is a caution and how long does it last?

“A caution is a formal warning that is given to a person who has admitted the offence. If the person refuses the caution then they will normally be prosecuted through the normal channels for the offence. Although it is not technically classed as a conviction (as only the Courts can convict someone) it can be taken into consideration by the Courts if the person is convicted of a further offence.

Cautions are covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and become spent immediately (apart from conditional cautions which will become spent after 3 months). Unless applying for particular types of work (see below), a person who has spent cautions does not have to disclose them to prospective employers, and employers cannot refuse to employ someone on the basis of spent convictions.

However, when applying for particular types of employment, for example, working with children or vulnerable adults, certain professions such as law, health care, and pharmacy, senior management posts within certain sectors and employment where matters of national security are involved, the application form will state that it is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. In these situations, you may need need to disclose your caution , and it may be disclosed on your DBS criminal records check. See Q89 for further guidance on whether your caution will be disclosed.

Cautions will always remain on a person’s record. There are only exceptional circumstances when a caution could be removed from a person’s record and it is anticipated that such incidents will be rare. Examples of such possible circumstances are that it was found that the original arrest or sample was unlawful or where it was found beyond all doubt that no offence existed. Any requests that fit the above criteria should be directed to the Chief Constable of the force concerned.”

I think that we now have some clarity. A Police Caution is a formal warning that is deemed spent with immediate effect, under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and is not classed as a criminal conviction. A Police Caution can only be used when the offence is admitted.

So, when it comes down to it, all we are left scratching our heads at is Jacqueline Collins’ use of the word, ‘informal’ as in her sentence which includes the words, ” he accepted  an informal caution from the Police”

There does indeed look to be a problem with this, as it is clear that there is nothing ‘informal’, about a Police Caution!

Poor drafting? Or an attempt to minimise the impact on reader opinion?

8 thoughts on “A difference of legal opinion? Clarified?

  1. Rothpol,
    if you are correct in saying that there is no such thing in law as an “Informal caution”, then Ms Collins – who appears to have qualified as a solicitor in 1985 and is thus a very experienced lawyer – should have known better than to use such potentially misleading language.
    There must be no room for ambiguity in statements made by lawyers.

    Why not make a complaint?


  2. The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority is the body responsible for investigating complaints about practicing solicitors. It was ‘A Regular Reader’ who first raised the prospect of a complaint and if he or she believes that there has been professional misconduct by a practicing solicitor then this is properly a matter for the SRA. Aggressive canines, however, should be left to the dog wardens!


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