Youth Cautions and DBS Checks

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Recent changes about what may or may not be disclosed on a DBS certificate have brought the issue of youth cautions back into the news agenda. The changes recently made to the DBS system are intended to improve the employment chances of ex-offenders, by disregarding very old convictions and cautions which are not representative of their recent conduct. This is all part of the filtering process, which describes what the police do when deciding what to print on a DBS certificate. Until now, this has been mainly a judgement call, where police use their discretion to decide what is relevant, and what isn’t. Recent changes mean that the decision is now taken out of police hands, with a new ruling that most youth cautions are to be disregarded. But what exactly is a youth caution?


Youth Cautions, Reprimands and Warnings

There are two things to consider when looking at this whole issue of brushes with the police in your younger years. Firstly, incidents recorded as cautions, reprimands or warnings are not the same as convictions. Cautions can be given by the police to anyone over the age of criminal responsibility for minor crimes. This includes things like writing graffiti, or a very minor incidence of shoplifting. Cautions are dealt with in the police station, and by accepting a caution, you’re not admitting that you are guilty of the alleged crime. Accepting a caution is just a quick and efficient way of dealing with an alleged offence, without having the hassle of going to court.

Youth means anyone aged over the cage of criminal responsibility, which is 10 in England and Wales, but who hasn’t yet had their 18th birthday. The vast majority of youth cautions are given to older teenagers rather than children who are still at primary school.


Enhanced Disclosure and Youth Cautions

There are only certain situations in which these types of old youth cautions might turn up on a DBS certificate. A basic DBS check only looks at current and unspent convictions, so unless the applicant has only just had their 18th birthday, reprimands and cautions are likely to be spent already. On other types of disclosure, such as the standard and enhanced forms, will reveal a higher level of detail. This is where there is the potential for these distant offences to resurface and appear on a disclosure check many years in the future.

From summer 2020 on, the new rules remove the automatic disclosure of youth cautions on an enhanced DBS check. That doesn’t mean that they will never be disclosed; just that the balance has swung back in the balance of the applicant. If youth cautions however were the start of a wider pattern of offending which persisted through the teenage years and into adulthood, the police may take a different view. But in general terms, this shift in policy is good news for the large number of people who get into minor scrapes with the law in their teenage years and go on to lead a law-abiding life.