Out of court disposals

Adult Simple Cautions

"An adult simple caution is a formal alternative to prosecution in court where a prosecution is not required in the public interest"

Adult Simple Cautions

An adult simple caution is a formal alternative to prosecution in court where a prosecution is not required in the public interest.   It can only be offered if the adult suspect (i.e. 18 or over) admits guilt, so if the accused does not accept committing the offence then an out-of-court disposal will not be offered.  Similarly, except in the case of youth cautions, an out-of-court disposal cannot be forced on a suspect, so it can only be used where the suspect agrees to accept it.

Who can make the decision to offer a simple caution?

Both the police and the CPS can make the decision to issue an adult simple caution (so called to distinguish it from a ‘conditional caution’), but there are some limits on those offences for which cautions can be given because they are intended for dealing with low-level offending (and usually for first-time offenders). 

When can a simple caution be given?

"As a rule of thumb, the more serious the offence, the less likely it is that a simple caution will be offered"

As a rule of thumb, the more serious the offence, the less likely it is that a simple caution will be offered.  Also, if the offender has a previous conviction or caution for a similar offence, this will reduce the chances of a caution being offered and in some cases may prevent it altogether.  Domestic violence and abuse cases, and cases of harassment and stalking will rarely be suitable for a simple caution.  Similarly, a simple caution for certain offences (such as possession of a bladed article or an offensive weapon, or supplying Class A drugs) can only be given in exceptional circumstances

Click for further information on simple cautions from the gov.uk website click here.

Adult Conditional Cautions

Adult Conditional Cautions

"more appropriate than a simple caution where the victim has suffered financial loss or damage to property, or where rehabilitation would be useful"

A conditional caution is often considered more appropriate than a simple caution where the victim has suffered financial loss or damage to property, or where rehabilitation would be useful.  Also, where the offender is a foreign national without permission to be in the UK, a conditional caution with foreign offender conditions might be offered (see more below).

As the name suggests, a conditional caution is a caution with conditions attached.   The offender must admit guilt and agree to the conditional caution.  Once given, criminal proceedings are put on hold while the offender is given an opportunity to comply with the conditions.  If complied with, there will be no need for a prosecution, but where the conditions are not complied with (without reasonable excuse) a prosecution may be commenced.

The conditions must be for the purpose of rehabilitation, reparation or punishment. 

A rehabilitation condition could, for example, require attendance for alcohol or drug treatment. A reparation condition could require making good the damage done or paying for it, or if it was local community property that was damaged the reparation could extend to repairing or maintaining that or other community property.  The punitive condition can require payment of a financial penalty.  The views of the victim will be obtained and the victim’s consent must be given where some direct reparation will take place (e.g. fixing the victim’s fence).  Foreign offender conditions can be used to require the offender to leave the UK and to not return for a specified period of times.

No adult Conditional caution for hate crimes

A conditional caution cannot be given for any offence classified as a hate crime (i.e. motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is or is perceived to be transgender or due to a person’s actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation or disability) or for a domestic violence offence.  Foreign offender conditions cannot be given where there are reasonable grounds to believe the offence is connected to human trafficking or the offender has a current asylum or human rights claim to remain in the UK.  As with adult simple cautions, the more serious the offence the less likely a conditional caution will be offered.

Further information on conditional cautions can be found here in the Director’s Guidance on Adult Conditional Cautions  and the Code of Practice for Adult Conditional Cautions.

Community Resolution

Community Resolution

Community resolution is an informal method of restorative justice and aims to deal with low level offending/anti-social behaviour by agreement between the victim and the offender.  Its primary focus is offenders who admit their guilt and who have limited or no previous involvement with the police.  It can consist of or include a written or verbal apology, putting right damage caused or some other form of reparation and paying compensation.  The offender must agree to the community resolution proposed by the police.  Failure to agree may mean the police will pursue a prosecution of the offender.  Community resolution is available for adults as well as youths.  

Youth cautions and conditional cautions

Youth Cautions & Conditional Cautions

"intended for low level offences and before either can be given the offender must accept guilt"

For youths aged 10 to 17 (under 10s cannot be prosecuted for criminal offences and 18s and over are adults), the public interest is sometimes better served by the offer of an out-of-court disposal rather than prosecution. As well as community resolution, potential alternatives to prosecution include the Youth Caution and Youth Conditional Caution. These are similar to their adult counterparts and are a formal alternative to prosecution in court. They are intended for low level offences and before either can be given the offender must accept guilt. Also, for a youth conditional caution to be given the offender must agree to it. However, no agreement is required for a youth caution to be imposed.

The Youth Offending Team (YOT) are notified by the police when a youth caution is given and YOT assess the youth and put a voluntary rehabilitation programme in place where it is needed.  YOT are similarly notified when a youth conditional caution is considered; YOT assess the youth and advise on conditions which must be accepted by the youth.  Once accepted the conditions are compulsory and YOT monitor compliance.  Failure to comply without reasonable excuse can result in prosecution.

Conditions must be for rehabilitation (e.g. a substance misuse programme), reparation (e.g. apologising to the victim, paying compensation or making good damage caused) or punishment (e.g. paying a financial penalty or completing up to 20 hours’ unpaid work)

As with adult conditional cautions, the victim’s views will be taken into account and the victim’s consent is required where some direct reparation will take place. 

Further information on youth cautions and conditional cautions can be found on the gov.uk and cps websites here:


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