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12 May 2023

Youth crime and misdemeanours: An everlasting impact?

6 mins

An exploration of Youth Cautions and disposals, and the potential impact into adulthood

Children who find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system are often some of the most vulnerable in society. Young people, due to lack of experience and with brains that are not yet fully developed, may make mistakes or act without fully appreciating consequences. Our work representing young people centres on ensuring that their rights are recognised and protected to the full, even into adulthood.

Clearly, a criminal record can make life more difficult, and if your child is facing criminal allegations, it is crucial to consider what the impact of a conviction, out-of-court, or pre-court disposal will be upon their future.

A criminal record contains information about a person’s contact with the criminal justice system and is held on the Police National Computer (PNC). The PNC includes conviction and non-conviction information such as details of voluntary interviews, arrests, and when the police decide to take no further action in respect of an allegation. Employers, a regulator, voluntary organisations, insurance companies and visa applications will ask about a person’s previous convictions (a ‘DBS check’) or involvement with the police (an ‘enhanced DBS check’). Someone with a criminal record (even if they were once a suspect in relation to certain offences without ultimately being charged) could be turned down for a job (whether paid or voluntary) or denied insurance or the ability to travel to certain countries.

There are three types of DBS check:
BasicShows unspent convictions and cautions (and any employer can request one of these).
StandardEssentially, a basic check, but includes all cautions, reprimands spent convictions and warnings held on the PNC unless filtered. These are suitable for certain roles (e.g. a security guard).
EnhancedThe most comprehensive check and includes a standard check plus any information held on police records that is considered relevant (by police) to the role. It includes non-conviction information. Enhanced checks are suitable for those working with children or vulnerable adults whether paid or unpaid.

If you have a conviction, it may become ‘spent’ after the ‘rehabilitation period. The rehabilitation periods for the most common sentences and disposals can be found here. Once spent, the conviction or disposal won’t always need to be disclosed. Some convictions are ‘filtered’, which means that they won’t be disclosed on a Standard or Enhanced DBS certificate. Note that filtered cautions and convictions are not deleted altogether from the PNC. Youth cautions, reprimands and warnings are unlikely to be disclosed on a standard or enhanced DBS check. There may be exceptional circumstances where the police consider that they should disclose it in an enhanced check.

In general, the filtering rules are:
  • Youth reprimands, cautions and warnings will not automatically be disclosed on a standard or enhanced DBS certificate (regardless of the offence)
  • Youth convictions will be filtered after five and a half years provided that the conviction did not result in a custodial or suspended sentence, unless the conviction is for an offence that will never be filtered.
  • Offences that can never be filtered include certain sexual offences, serious offences of violence, and offences relating to the supply for drugs. See the full list of offences that can never be filtered here.
The different options available to the police in youth cases (apart from a formal charge):
DisposalNatureCriminal Record?
No further actionWhere the police decide not to charge someone with an offence (perhaps because there is not enough evidence, or it is not in the public interest to take further action).  If you were arrested or interviewed under caution and subject to a police investigation, the fact of this will remain on the record even if no further action is taken, and may be disclosed in an enhanced DBS check.  
Youth CautionThese are intended for low-level offences. They replaced reprimands and final warnings and are administered if a criminal offence is admitted and the police view this as an appropriate disposal.The caution and the offence are recorded on the PNC.   In most cases, Youth Cautions are spent immediately and will not be disclosed in a standard DBS check but may be disclosed in an enhanced DBS check.  
Youth Conditional CautionThis is a caution with conditions attached. The conditions can include apologising to and/or compensation for the victim and making good any damage, a fine and/or unpaid work, and attendance at a treatment course.Forms part of a criminal record but is spent as soon as the conditions are complied with but may be disclosed in an enhanced DBS check.  
Community ResolutionThese can include elements of restorative justice for low-level crimes. They may be offered where the offender accepts responsibility and (usually) where the victim agrees that they do not want more formal action to be taken.  Does not form part of a criminal record, and is held on the local police computer/database, not the national police computer, but may be disclosed in an enhanced DBS check.
Outcome 21This formalises the discretion available to the police relating to the handling of certain crimes (particularly consensual ‘sexting’ cases) without criminalising young people. It might be used in cases where the making and sharing of an image is non-abusive and there is no evidence of exploitation, grooming and extensive sharing.  Outcome 21 may be disclosed in an enhanced DBS check.
Outcome 22This outcome code is used when police decide to defer prosecution until the child has had the chance to engage with an intervention activity (like a victim awareness course, engagement with addiction services or some form of restorative justice).  Outcome 22 may be disclosed in an enhanced DBS check.

Data held on the police national or local computer is not automatically disclosed on an enhanced DBS check. It is within the discretion of the Chief Constable and representations can be made not to disclose.

The upshot of all of this is that a criminal record, or the specific disposal of a matter, can drastically affect a young person’s future. If your child is investigated by the police, it is crucial that you consult a criminal solicitor as soon as possible. Our lawyers have significant experience representing people throughout the criminal justice system. Our decades of combined experience means that we are skilled at communicating and building trust with young people and children, but also in negotiating with the police and achieving the best outcomes. The advice given at a police station can potentially impact an individual’s entire future.

Our Criminal Law specialists offer expert advice in relation to the issues covered in this piece. To get in touch with the team, please submit an enquiry form here, or call +44 (0)20 7014 2020.

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