Advanced Search

Conditional Cautioning

Code Of Practice & associated annexes

Criminal Justice Act 2003, Sections 22-27

  1. Introduction
  2. Conditional Cautioning As A Disposal
  3. Deciding When A Conditional Caution May Be Appropriate
  4. The Requirements Set Out In The Act
  5. Types Of Condition
  6. Time Limits
  7. Involvement Of Victims
  8. Restorative Justice
  9. Places Where Cautions May Be Given
  10. Monitoring And Compliance
  11. Recording Conditional Cautions
  12. Notes

  1. Introduction
    1. This Code of Practice has been approved by Parliament and brought into force by statutory instrument (SI2004- 1683). It extends to England and Wales. The Code governs the use of Conditional Cautions under Part 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 ("the Act"). The text of the relevant provisions of the Act is attached at Annex A.
    2. Conditional Cautioning enables offenders to be given a suitable disposal without the involvement of the usual court processes. Where rehabilitative or reparative conditions (or both) are considered preferable to prosecution, Conditional Cautioning provides a statutory means of enforcing them through prosecution for the original offence in the event of non-compliance. The key to determining whether a Conditional Caution should be given - instead of prosecution or a simple caution - is that the imposition of specified conditions will be an appropriate and effective means of addressing an offender's behaviour or making reparation for the effects of the offence on the victim or the community.
    3. The Act defines a Conditional Caution as 'a caution which is given in respect of an offence committed by the offender and which has conditions attached to it'. If an offender fails without reasonable excuse to comply with the conditions attached to a Conditional Caution the Act provides for criminal proceedings to be instituted and the caution cancelled.
    4. Such a caution may only be given by an authorised person, defined as a constable; a person designated as an investigating officer under section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002; or a person authorised for the purpose by a relevant prosecutor. The authorised person should be suitably trained.
    5. A relevant prosecutor is defined as -
      1. the Attorney General,
      2. the Director of the Serious Fraud Office,
      3. the Director of Public Prosecutions,
      4. a Secretary of State,
      5. the Commissioners of Inland Revenue,
      6. the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, or
      7. a person specified as a relevant prosecutor in an order made by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this Part of the Act.
    6. Although this Code is expressed largely in terms of the police and CPS, it applies equally to Conditional Cautions given on the authority of other relevant prosecutors, who should ensure that their procedures (with any necessary adaptations) comply with the relevant provisions of the Code. Where appropriate, references to the police should be read as including other authorised persons, and references to the CPS as including other relevant prosecutors.

    Top of page

  2. Conditional Cautioning As A Disposal
    1. A Conditional Caution is a statutory development of the non-statutory police caution ('simple caution') which has long been available, at the discretion of the police and CPS, as an alternative to prosecution in suitable cases. The basic criteria for a Conditional Caution - ie those which must be satisfied before this disposal can be considered - are:
      • that the offender is 18 or over (see note 1);
      • that the offender admits the offence to the authorised person; and
      • that there is, in the opinion of the relevant prosecutor, evidence sufficient to charge the offender with the offence (note 2see ).
    2. In cases where these criteria are satisfied, a Conditional Caution may be considered as an alternative to charge, taking into account the factors outlined in section 3 of this Code. The simple caution will remain available as a disposal, and may be appropriate in cases where no suitable conditions readily suggest themselves, or where prosecution would not be in the public interest, or where the suspect has forestalled what would otherwise have been a suitable condition by (for example) paying compensation to the victim (and can establish that he has done so). For those offences for which there is the option of issuing a fixed penalty notice, that will generally be the appropriate disposal unless such a notice has previously been issued to the offender, in which case a Conditional Caution might be more suitable.
    3. The issue of simple cautions and penalty notices will continue to be a matter for the police. The discretion of the police in respect of decisions whether to charge has been reduced with the introduction of the arrangements in Schedule 2 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, whereby the Director of Public Prosecutions is empowered to issue guidance about how custody officers should proceed in cases where they consider that there would be sufficient evidence to prosecute. The effect of the guidance (see note 3) which the DPP has issued pursuant to section 37A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is that it is for the CPS to decide whether or not a suspect should be charged and to determine which charge should be brought, although the police retain the discretion to charge in minor, routine cases.
    4. But the police have no such discretion in respect of Conditional Cautions, which may be given only where the prosecutor considers that it is appropriate to do so, even in cases where it would have been open to the police to charge without reference. It follows that, where it appears to the police that the statutory requirements are met and that a Conditional Caution might be appropriate, it is for the prosecutor to decide that a Conditional Caution is the right disposal and what condition(s) would be suitable. It is also open to the prosecutor to take the view that a Conditional Caution is an appropriate disposal without this having been suggested by the police.
    5. The necessary consultation should be carried out as quickly as possible, either face-to-face with a Crown Prosecutor located in the police station, by telephone, or using any arrangements whereby advice may be sought out of hours. It is acknowledged that Restorative Justice (RJ) processes will involve consultation with the parties at the outset. This process should be carefully managed to balance the benefits of using restorative methods against the desirability of early disposal. Where, exceptionally, the necessary reference to the CPS cannot be done on the spot, the suspect should be bailed under s37(7)(a) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 for a sufficient period to enable the CPS to decide whether prosecution or a Conditional Caution would be appropriate.
    6. Where, in RJ cases, the decision of the CPS is that a caution would be appropriate if acceptable conditions can be agreed upon through RJ processes, the suspect should be bailed under s37(7)(a) for a period that will allow those processes to take place before the resulting conditions are approved by the prosecutor and the offer of a caution made to the offender.
    7. Where several related or similar offences are admitted they may be grouped and dealt with by a single Conditional Caution; breach of any of the conditions would make the offender liable for prosecution for all of the offences.
    8. A Conditional Caution is a statutory disposal and may be cited in any subsequent court proceedings.

    Top of page

  3. Deciding When A Conditional Caution May Be Appropriate
    1. Guidance about existing cautions advises the police that, in considering whether an offender should be charged or cautioned, they should have regard to the seriousness of the offence and to the offender's criminal record. The same considerations will apply to Conditional Cautions, and authorised persons as well as relevant prosecutors should apply the principles of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and take into consideration the latest Home Office Circular in relation to cautions, when deciding whether an offence may be suitable for a Conditional Caution. Careful account should be taken of any current guidance in relation to domestic violence and hate crime including homophobic crime and crime involving a racist element.
    2. Conditions attached to cautions must either facilitate the rehabilitation of the offender or ensure that the offender makes reparation for the offence, or both. Where the circumstances of a particular case or offender readily suggest conditions of this type, and where such conditions will provide a proportionate response to the offence bearing in mind the public interest, a Conditional Caution will usually be appropriate. It must be remembered that the offender must consent to the conditions as a pre-requisite to imposing them (see note 4).
    3. It is not intended to establish a progression so that a Conditional Caution is regarded as the logical next step for an offender who has received a simple caution. Indeed a person who has recently been cautioned (see note 5) for a similar offence should not be given a Conditional Caution, unless exceptionally it is believed that the condition might be effective in breaking the pattern of offending. Previous cautions (or indeed convictions) for quite dissimilar offences may be disregarded, however, as may cautions or convictions more than 5 years old, although failure to complete a previous Conditional Caution would normally rule out the issue of another.

    Top of page

  4. The Requirements Set Out In The Act
    1. The following requirements must be complied with:
    2. The authorised person has evidence that the offender has committed an offence.

      This will be the evidence on the basis of which the suspect would otherwise fall to be charged, which must include an admission made under caution in interview and any witness statements. In order to avoid any suggestion that an admission has been obtained by offering an inducement, the prospect of a Conditional Caution should on no account be mentioned until the suspect has made a clear and reliable admission under a cautioned interview to all the elements of the offence.

      1. The relevant prosecutor decides -
        1. that there is sufficient evidence to charge the offender with the offence, and
        2. that a Conditional Caution should be given to the offender in respect of that offence.

        The relevant prosecutor will apply the evidential test in the usual way according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors - ie that there would be a realistic prospect of conviction if the offender were to be prosecuted. The prosecutor must also conclude that the public interest would be served by the offender receiving a Conditional Caution, if he accepts it and subject to his performing the agreed conditions. In addition, since the fall-back is that the offender will be prosecuted if he either does not accept or fails to perform the conditions, the prosecutor must be satisfied that prosecution would be in the public interest in those contingencies.

      2. The offender admits to the authorised person that he committed the offence.
      3. In addition to the admission made in interview (see (i) above), it is necessary that at the time the Conditional Caution is administered the offender admits to the authorised person that he committed the offence. Offenders should be advised at that point of their right to seek legal advice (see note 6) to ensure they give informed consent to accepting both the caution and the conditions, whether or not they have availed themselves of that right at an earlier stage.

      4. The authorised person explains the effect of the Conditional Caution to the offender and warns him that failure to comply with any of the conditions attached to the caution is likely to result in the offender being prosecuted for the original offence.
      5. The implications of the caution should be explained, including that there are circumstances in which it may be disclosed (such as to certain potential employers, and to a court in any future criminal proceedings) and, where the offence is listed in Schedule 1 to the Sex Offenders Act 1997, that accepting a caution will result in the offender being required to notify the police of their name and address and certain other details.

        There should not be any bargaining with the offender over the conditions: if he does not accept them in full, he should be prosecuted.

        It should be made clear in explaining the consequences of non-compliance that the conditions are to be performed within the agreed time. It must be explained clearly that failure to comply will prompt a reconsideration of the case and usually result in the offender being prosecuted for the original offence.

      6. The offender signs a document which contains -
        1. details of the offence,
        2. an admission by him that he committed the offence,
        3. his consent to being given the Conditional Caution,
        4. an agreement to comply with the conditions attached to the caution, which must be set out on the face of the document, and
        5. an explanation of the implications referred to in (iv) above.

        After the offender has admitted to the offence and, having heard the explanation referred to above, has agreed to the conditions, he must sign a pro-forma to this effect. A standard form is available and must be used by all forces. This document will contain details of the offence, the offender's admission, and the conditions and timescale for completing them to which he has agreed. It must be explained to the offender before the form is signed that it will be admissible as evidence in court if the offender is subsequently prosecuted for the original offence in the event of non-compliance.

    Top of page

  5. Types Of Condition
    1. Conditions attached to a caution must be -
      • Proportionate to the offence. The offender is unlikely to agree to a condition that is more onerous than the sentence that would probably be imposed if the case were taken to court. On the other hand, conditions that amount to far less than the punishment that would be probably be given by a court are unlikely to satisfy the public interest or engender confidence in the criminal justice system.
      • Achievable: the conditions must be clearly defined in terms of what must be done and within what period of time. Conditions must be realistic and should take account of the particular offender's circumstances, including physical and mental capacity, so that he could reasonably be expected to achieve them within the time set; otherwise the only result will be a delayed prosecution.
      • Appropriate: the conditions should be relevant to the offence or the offender (see note 7) or both.
    2. The Act requires that conditions should fall into one or both of two categories: rehabilitation and reparation.
      • Rehabilitation: this might include taking part in treatment for drug or alcohol dependency (e.g. attendance at self-help groups provided it can be verified, or on a drug awareness and education programme including assessment of personal needs and appropriate onward referral), anger management courses, or driving rectification classes and the like, or involvement in a restorative justice process (which may lead to reparation). The offender would be expected to pay reasonable costs, if there are any, and a requirement to do so should be one of the conditions. Where the offender cannot afford to pay and this rules out a particular condition, every effort should be made to identify an alternative. The fact that provision of some sorts of course may be subject to resource implications (and possibly a waiting list) will need to be taken into account, bearing in mind that completion of any conditions should be swift and achievable within a reasonable time (see section 6 below).
      • Reparation: this might include repairing or otherwise making good any damage caused to property (e.g. by cleaning graffiti), restoring stolen goods, paying modest financial compensation, or in some cases a simple apology to the victim. Compensation may be paid to an individual or to the community in the form of an appropriate charity.
    3. Offenders should be required as standard to comply with a condition not to commit further offences (see note 8) until the conditions have been performed.
    4. Specific conditions such as that the offender should avoid a particular street or public house may be included, but consideration should also be given as to whether alternatives such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders or Restriction Orders etc would be more appropriate or timely.
    5. The police, CPS and National Probation Service (NPS) should take steps at local level (e.g. through the Local Criminal Justice Board or Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnership) to identify agencies, groups or organizations, voluntary or statutory, which provide courses or other activities that might form part of a Conditional Caution, and which it may be appropriate to consult when deciding whether a case is suitable for a Conditional Caution. The NPS could be approached in appropriate cases to assist in determining whether certain offenders are suitable for a Conditional Caution, for example where there are concerns about the health, behaviour or background of the offender.
    6. When conditions are imposed that require the performance of some task other than the simple payment of compensation or the attendance on a course supervised by an organization responsible for monitoring attendance, careful thought should be given to how performance will be measured and who will be the appropriate person to give assurances that the condition has been completed. This should be documented as part of the description of the condition, in order that the relevant prosecutor and the offender are in no doubt as to the conditions and the measurement of performance. (See also section 10.1.)

    Top of page

  6. Time Limits
    1. The deadline for the completion of conditions should not be too long. This is particularly important in relation to summary offences, for most of which there is a time limit of six months within which a prosecution must commence; for these offences the deadline set should leave enough time for a prosecution to proceed in the event of non-compliance.
    2. Where the condition is for an offender to go on a course of treatment for behaviour/ substance abuse, which may take longer than six months to deliver, the relevant prosecutor will need to consider whether this is appropriate, depending on the attitude of the offender and the likelihood of compliance. There is no reason why undertaking a course of longer duration should not be a condition, provided that (to satisfy the reasonableness test) the offender is only required under the terms of the Conditional Caution to attend for part of it. For example, a course may last 12 months to achieve best results. In such a case, the offender might agree, under the conditions of his caution, to attend for 4 months, and thereafter it will be up to him to continue the treatment for his own benefit, rather than under any legal compulsion.

    Top of page

  7. Involvement Of Victims
    1. In the course of interviewing the victim about the offence, it would be important to ascertain whether any resulting loss, damage or injury is such that it could readily be made good; what the victim's attitude would be towards an offer of reparation from the offender, should one be made; and whether they would be content for such reparation to be made the condition of a caution. Where a caution (simple or conditional) is at that stage regarded as a possibility, the fact may be mentioned to the victim in order to ascertain their views, but it is vital not to give the impression that the victim's views (if any) will be conclusive as to the outcome, which (it should be explained) is at the discretion of the CPS. In some circumstances the relevant prosecutor may consider that in order to be proportionate to the level of the offence, conditions should be more or less onerous than those the victim would accept, in which case the prosecutor should consider whether some explanation to this effect will be helpful to the victim or to the offender.
    2. The Victim Personal Statement (VPS) scheme provides victims with the opportunity to describe the effects of the crime and to have these effects taken into account as the case progresses through the criminal justice system. If it is subsequently proposed to approach the victim for an interview specifically about Conditional Cautioning, the contents of the VPS (if he or she has made one) should be considered beforehand, but it should not be considered sufficient, on its own, to inform a decision to pursue a restorative justice route.
    3. Further information and guidance on the victim personal statement scheme can be found on the Home Office website at:

    Top of page

  8. Restorative Justice
    1. Restorative justice processes bring victims and offenders, and sometimes community members, into contact, either face to face or indirectly, to focus on the impact of a particular crime, and together to agree what can be done to repair the harm caused by that crime. Such processes must always be voluntary for both the victim and the offender. Any person delivering a restorative process, including preparatory work with victims and offenders, must be trained in restorative justice and must meet the required standards. See guidance on this at
    2. Restorative justice processes can be used as a condition of the caution (where the contact with the victim, direct or indirect, is itself the condition) if both victim and offender consent to this. Alternatively, they can be used as the decision-making process whereby conditions, such as compensation, rehabilitative activities, or other kinds of reparation, are agreed. It should be noted that in this second case, the 'outcome agreement' arising from the process forms a basis for conditions to be approved or formulated by the prosecutor. Notwithstanding the outcome agreement, the prosecutor retains a duty to ensure that the conditions are proportionate to the offending and meet the public interest requirements of the case. Taking account of the views of the victim, and any other conditions attached to the caution, the CPS/police will need to take a view as to which use of restorative justice is appropriate in a particular case.
    3. It is desirable that, where RJ-trained personnel are available and a case with a personal victim is being considered for a Conditional Caution, the victim should be contacted (unless there are exceptional reasons not to do so) to ask for their views on reparation as a condition of the caution, or (if the offender has already indicated they are willing) whether they would like to be involved in a direct or indirect restorative justice process. Restorative justice processes may also be appropriate for crimes with a corporate victim, or crimes where the community as a whole has suffered. In these cases, or in cases where a personal victim has chosen to have no involvement, it may still be desirable to deliver the caution (and decide any conditions) in a restorative manner.

    Top of page

  9. Places Where Cautions May Be Given
    1. Conditional Cautions will usually be given at the local police station, but there is the option of selecting a location appropriate to the offence; e.g. there may be value in giving it at the place where vandalism has occurred. It will be for the authorised person to determine the venue for administering the caution. However, it is not suitable for Conditional Cautions to be delivered on the street, or in the offender's home.

    Top of page

  10. Monitoring And Compliance
    1. It is essential that there should be robust monitoring of compliance with the conditions of a caution. The onus is on the offender to show that the conditions have been met, and the conditions should be expressed in a way that makes clear to the offender what is to be done, by when, and what will be acceptable as evidence that it has been done. For example, an offender who agrees to attend a course might be required to produce a letter from the organiser confirming that he has done so. Depending on the nature of the condition, it may be appropriate for other agencies (see note 9) managing the Conditional Caution to monitor performance and report to the relevant prosecutor any failure fully to comply. At the end of the process the offender will sign a form that will include a declaration that the conditions have been met.
    2. Failure to comply with any one of the conditions means that the offender may be prosecuted for the original offence. The offender will be required as a standard condition to report any failure to comply and explain whether there are circumstances that might amount to a reasonable excuse. Where the offender fails to report and give reasons, a prosecution may (following a prompt CPS review) be commenced, usually by the issue of a summons.
    3. Whether any excuse given is reasonable or not is a matter for the relevant prosecutor to determine on all the available evidence. Such a decision may be reviewable by a court. The decision and reasons for it should be carefully recorded. Where the CPS are satisfied that there is a reasonable excuse for the offender's failure to meet the conditions, they will have to decide whether the case should be regarded as closed, or whether it would be appropriate to set a new time limit for completing conditions or (exceptionally) to revise the conditions, although they should not be made more onerous. Where this is done, the revisions should be recorded and the offender must sign the revised Conditional Caution form acquiescing in the changes. A refusal by the offender to agree to revised conditions will usually result in prosecution for the original offence. It will not usually be appropriate to revise conditions more than once.
    4. Where conditions have been partially completed, it is for the prosecutor to decide whether the offender should be prosecuted, or whether the extent of the part-compliance is sufficient to regard the Conditional Caution as having been fulfilled (in which case it would remain on the record).
    5. In general, however, failure to complete the conditions without reasonable excuse will lead to the offender being prosecuted for the original offence. The CPS will inform the police of the decision. The charge may be brought at the police station (if the offender attends voluntarily - there is no power of arrest), or more usually by way of summons (or, when the relevant provision of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has been implemented, in accordance with the 'charge by post' procedure, which may be used by the CPS as well as by the police). Where it is believed that the service of a summons or charge by post will be ineffective, eg because the offender's whereabouts are no longer known, an application for a warrant at first instance should be made to the magistrates' court. At the same time the Conditional Caution should be formally terminated, the offender so informed, and relevant police records (PNC and any locally stored) amended accordingly. Court proceedings will then go ahead in the usual way.
    6. Whenever proceedings are instituted, the Conditional Caution ceases to have effect.
    7. Personal victims, unless they have expressed a contrary wish, should be informed when a Conditional Caution has been completed or, where it is not completed, about the outcome of subsequent court proceedings.

    Top of page

  11. Recording Conditional Cautions
    1. Pending modifications to the Police National Computer, Conditional Cautions should be recorded in accordance with directions from the Home Secretary.

    Top of page

  12. Notes
    1. at the time of disposal. For offenders under 18, simple cautions were replaced with reprimands and final warnings under section 65 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998; for further details, see Final Warning Scheme: Guidance for the Police and Youth Offending Teams (Home Office, November 2002, available at
    2. Back to text

    3. Note that the person to whom the admissions are made may be a police officer but the decision as to sufficiency of evidence must be taken by a prosecutor
    4. Back to text

    5. Guidance to Police Officers and Crown Prosecutors in respect of the making of charging decisions.
    6. Back to text

    7. Where the proposed conditions would involve a restorative justice mediation process, this might affect the time of administering a conditional caution; see related guidance on the use of restorative justice.
    8. Back to text

    9. or given a reprimand or Final Warning
    10. Back to text

    11. Advice is available either from a Duty Solicitor or own solicitor free of charge, although in some circumstances this may be limited to telephone advice only.
    12. Back to text

    13. The conditions must not require the offender to do anything unlawful (eg contrary to a court injunction).
    14. Back to text

    15. Where further offending is alleged, it will be for the CPS to decide whether it is such as to require the conditional caution to be cancelled and the original offence prosecuted.
    16. Back to text

    17. Monitoring may be carried out by any appropriate agency nominated by the authorised person. This might include the use of Community Support Officers or Neighbourhood Wardens, where available, who could check on the completion of a condition which includes public work in the community.
    18. Back to text


Enquiries about this guidance should be addressed to:

The Prosecution Team
Room 625 6th Floor
Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge,
London, SE1 9HS


Tel: 020 776 5137

Top of page