The long term consequences and implications of cautions on the individual have only recently been clarified by being recognised by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This does not go far enough.
Countless people lead blameless lives for years and then one day they have a stroke of bad luck which can wreck their moral and self confidence. They may never have a brush with the law ever again, but they are for evermore, branded as less than worthy.
Cautions are typically issued to people who have not formerly had any trouble with the law. In fact many people who accept cautions are completely innocent; some are victims of vindictive, malicious allegations.
Duty bound to investigate any accusation the Police confront the alleged perpetrator, often quite aggressively. The unfound allegations may cause some to become distressed. This could lead to the accused becoming over emotional and angry. The Police sometimes choose to misinterpret this as guilt or culpability.
Whether a victim of circumstance or a one off brush with the law most of these people are in all probability naive and inexperienced in dealing with the Police. The Police often realise this and exploit the situation as an opportunity to maximise their output at someone else’s expense. With this in mind many individuals are intimidated and threatened into consenting to the reprimand without being made fully aware of the implications. Cautions benefit the Police because it means “Job Done, Next!” and it’s another result on the Government’s statistic figures, without really having done any real investigation.
People who have a caution on file are often patronisingly informed that they do not have a criminal record and that they do not have to divulge it when applying for most jobs. This is missing the point. Cautions can prevent you from entering certain careers or voluntary roles. The mere prospect of a CRB check is enough to stop many people in their tracks when it comes to applying for a job. This can prevent some from fulfilling their full potential and their skills and talents can be lost to some professions forever.
Cautions by no means make people better members of society.
Individuals with cautions may have it used against them at any time.
They can be used to discredit somebody’s good character in a Court of Law and hence throw doubt over their evidence. This is hardly likely to encourage them to perform some of their civil obligations as a law abiding citizen. It may make them cautious of getting involved in uncertain situations, such as preventing crime, which may compromise or work against them. If you treat people as less worthy they feel less worthy and so become less worthy.
Police Cautions require the minimum of effort on behalf of the Police, but can have a devastating effect on the future of people’s lives and careers
Individuals who accept a Police Caution, for whatever reason may never have been arrested and have certainly never been convicted in a court of law. They may have been the victims of a malicious allegation, an unfortunate on off scuff or an over enthusiastic Police Officer. They have never had the luxury of a barrister defending them, a judge arbitrating for them or an unbiased jury deciding their fate.
There has to be a stage where we wipe the slate clean for cautions, they are a warning, allow it be left at that! Don’t hold it over people’s heads for the rest of their lives; give people a chance to move on.