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Criminal Justice System (Police, Court, Probation)

Bringing together links to information, resources, advice, FAQ's and useful links

Criminal justice system issues in brief

  • Details of your criminal record will either be recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) or the Police National Database (PND). You can apply for a copy of your police record by applying to ACRO for a Subject Access Request (SAR).
  • If you have been arrested and are going to be interviewed by the police under caution, you are entitled to free legal advice and representation. If your case goes to court, you may qualify for legal aid representation.
  • The Crown Court keeps records of court proceedings for 5 years. If you think you may need an official record of what happened in court, it’s worth applying for a copy of the court transcript before they are destroyed.

The police

Disposals given by the police

The police have many options at their disposal for dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour. For less serious cases the police may deal with the matter by way of an informal out-of-court disposal. Accepting one of these does not involve any admission of guilt. They will be recorded on the Police National Database (PND).

Alternatively, if you admit your guilt, the police may offer you a caution. Cautions and conditional cautions are recorded on the Police National Computer.

If you want to find out what information the police hold about you, you can ask for a copy of your police record (referred to as a Subject Access Request) from ACRO Criminal Records Office.

The information recorded by the police on the PNC and PND is used by the Disclosure and Barring Service to produce criminal record certificates for employment purposes (basic, standard and enhanced). The police may however be involved in other types of ‘disclosures’.


Following an investigation by the police your case may be referred to court. Your solicitor will be able to provide you with general information around court procedures and answer any specific questions you have about your case.

If you plead guilty or are found guilty the magistrate/judge may decide to give you either a community based sentence:

or alternatively, a prison sentence

If you’ve been to court, think about whether you will ever need an official record of what happened. For example, you might want to (re)enter a profession where you might need to provide transcripts of the sentencing. If you think this will apply to you, make sure you get copies of the court transcripts before they are destroyed by the court.


Being supervised by probation can be difficult. If possible, try to build a positive relationship with your probation officer. If they feel you are being open and honest with them, they may be more prepared to see you less often and be less restrictive.

It’s sometimes necessary for a probation officer to make decisions or take actions which you may not agree with. Although these are sometimes necessary, there may be occasions when probation staff fail to do something that they should do., make unjustified decisions or take inappropriate action. If this happens you may need to make a complaint or even consider requesting a change of probation officer.

Frequently asked questions

  • The policy of returning property can vary depending on the police force concerned. Usually the police will write to you once the officer in charge of your case authorises the release of any property.

  • We can’t advise on whether you should accept a caution. We would strongly recommend you seek the advice of a solicitor. However, you can find some further information on the implications of accepting a police caution.

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