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Public law and Regulation

Case reports and guidance on public law and professional regulation issues

03 JUL 2013

R (on the application of Stratton) v Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police [2013] EWHC 1561 (Admin); (2013) PLLR 091

Police - criminal procedure - caution - whether accepted that offence had been committed - whether full implications of caution understood - informed consent

Where there was no clear evidence that a person accepting a caution had done so in full knowledge of the effect of that caution, it must be quashed.

7 June 2013

Administrative Court

President of the Queen's Bench Division; Cranston J

(1)        The application (S) had, in 2008, been involved in an altercation, as a result of which she was arrested on the grounds of having occasioned actual bodily harm and criminal damage. Following detention at a police station within the responsibility of the defendant (CCTV), S had signed a caution. It was only a number of years later that she became aware that this was any more than a formality required to release her from the police station.

(2)        S challenged the validity of the caution on the basis that she had at no point admitted having committed the offence and that the consequences of accepting the caution had not been properly spelled out to her.

(3)        PQBD held: That, although the language of the caution had been formalised by the responsible police officer, there was no reason to believe that it did not reflect S's account of what had happen, and it amounted to an admission of the offfence [15].

(4)        That although some time had passed since the events, on the balance of probabilities it could be considered that S had inquired about whether accepting the caution would affect her employment as a nanny. The form only pointed out that the caution could be used against her if she offended in the future; it was not surprising that she thought it was simply a formality required in order to leave the police station. The form did not make the serious consequences of the caution clear and there was no evidence that the consequences were spelled out to her. The caution was to be quashed [52] - [54].

Obiter: the directions issued by CCTV on administering cautions and the form in which they should be used should ensure that they are fully explained and that informed consent is given. Reference should be made to the implications described in recent guidance. Additional safeguards were in place by way of new filtering rules in force since May 2013, the accountability of the Chief Constable and the current review by Magistrates of the appropriateness of issuing cautions for certain offences [55] - [58].

Caution quashed

Key Paragraphs

[1] - [3] - Introduction

[4] - [9] - Background

[10] - [15] - Had she admitted an offence?

Issue 2: were the consequences of accepting a caution fully spelled out?

[16] - [19] - The factual background

[20] - [25] - The development of the power to caution and of Home Office circulars

[26] - [31] - The recording of cautions and criminal records certificate system

[32] - [42] - Home Office guidance

[43] - [46] - The duty of the Chief Constable

[47] - [51] - The importance of spelling out the consequences and of obtaining informed consent

[52] - [54] - The position in the present case

[55] - [58] - Concluding observations

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