Retention and deletion of police cautions and convictions

Aim of this page

This page sets out details of the current practice for retaining details of criminal records and the process involved in requesting the deletion of a caution or conviction.

We have separate information on the retention and deletion of DNA and fingerprints.

This page forms part of our information on police records.

Note – this page is about retention and deletion, not disclosure. Advice on disclosure is covered elsewhere on this site, particularly around when criminal records become spent (so not disclosed on basic checks) or filtered (so not disclosed on standard/enhanced checks)

Why is this important?

Many people are unaware that details of all recordable offences remain on the Police National Computer (PNC) until they reach the age of 100.

Cautions and convictions can only be removed from the PNC in exceptional cases and it’s important to know what those circumstances may be and how you would go about applying for them to be removed.

There is no national or formal process in place for individuals to request the deletion of a court conviction. Where a police force receives a request from an individual to delete a conviction, our understanding is that the majority of police forces would refuse.

Introduction

On this page, when we refer to a “criminal record” we mean convictions, cautions, final warnings and reprimands.

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN’s), Penalty Notices for Disorder (PND’s), findings of innocence, acquittals and other police intelligence (including allegations) is covered in the local police information section.

Retention

The current practice is for the police to store details of all recordable offences, and other specific offences, and for these to be held until the individual reaches 100 years old. What’s recorded on the PNC?

Historically, the process of retention has varied.

Prior to early 2006, the police were able to delete records from the PNC after a certain period, depending on the nature of the offence. This was possible under the old ‘weeding’ guidelines. However, the police do not appear to have deleted records on a systematic basis, and many records that were eligible for deletion were never actually deleted. If you have a CRB check (as they were known then) that you did prior to 2006 that came back clear, your offences have either been deleted or were not recorded in the first place.

In 2006, the police stopped deleting records and introduced a new policy, the ‘Exceptional Case Procedure’, which stated that all records would be held until an individual reached 100 years of age. The ‘Exceptional Case Procedure’ enabled individuals to request their records be deleted from the PNC if they felt that there were exceptional circumstances, for example if an arrest was unlawful or where it was established beyond doubt that no offence existed. At the same time, they introduced ‘step-down’, which enabled individuals to apply to have their records ‘stepped-down’ if they met the step-down criteria. This meant that they wouldn’t be disclosed on standard or enhanced DBS checks.

This step-down procedure was stopped in October 2009, following a Court of Appeal decision, meaning that information which had previously been stepped-down was reinstated back onto the PNC. If you applied for, and had your records stepped down, it is likely that they will reappear on your standard or enhanced criminal record check and your best course of action would be to discuss this with whoever is requesting the check.

Since October 2009, the police have only deleted cautions under either the old Exceptional Case Procedure (ECP) or the Record Deletion Process which was introduced in May 2015.

If you are not sure what records the police still hold, you can access your own record by doing a subject access request.

What if my conviction doesn’t show up on my police record?

Check local records

It is possible that you have only received details from the PNC. You need to see a copy of the local police records from wherever you received the conviction. It may be recorded there. This wouldn’t automatically be disclosed on a DBS certificate, but may be disclosed on an enhanced certificate.

Police recording practices

The PNC does not include every single conviction.

The police currently store details of all recordable offences (indictable, triable-either-way and some summary offences) and they keep this data until you reach 100 years old. However, in the past, the process of recording has varied which means that you may have been convicted in the past but it may not be recorded on the PNC.

Weeding

In the past, the process of keeping records has also varied. Until early 2006, weeding guidelines, allowed the Police to delete records after a certain period depending on the offence. They only normally deleted records if requested, so many records that could have been deleted were not.

Step-down

In 2006, the police introduced a process for filtering out information before it appeared on a criminal records check. A person could apply to the police to have information ‘stepped down’ from their standard or enhanced check. This was typically in relation to offences that were very old and very minor. The decision was at the discretion of the chief constable of each local force.

Step-down was stopped in October 2009 after a Court of Appeal decision. If you previously had information stepped down, it will now reappear on a criminal record check.

Can convictions be removed from the PNC?

The Police National Computer (PNC) currently retains all information until an individuals 100th birth date. The police are obliged, under Part V of the Police Act 1997, to provide the DBS with access to all convictions held on the PNC. There was previously a system known as ‘step-down’, but this was ended into October 2009.

You retain the right under the Data Protection Act 2018 to contact the police directly about information which is held on the PNC about you; this is often referred to as Subject Access. You can make a request to have a record deleted from the PNC together with associated fingerprints and DNA through the ‘Record Deletion Process’ which is outlined in the guidance ‘Deletion of Records from National Police Systems‘. However, it is very rare for convictions to be removed under this procedure. The deletion of records from the National Police Systems is usually reserved for cases involving non-conviction information (such as unproven allegations, or findings of innocence), or where it can be proved that the arrest was unlawful or where it is established beyond doubt that no offence existed.

The only other option would be to legally appeal against the conviction (for example “I didn’t do it”). This can normally only be done within a short time period following the conviction. To do this, you should seek legal advice. Also note that, if you pleaded guilty at court, that makes appealing your conviction even more difficult.

Who owns the information?

Under the Data Protection Act, the police are the Data Owners and Data Controllers of the information on the Police National Computer (PNC). They own and maintain the information.

The DBS uses the information from the PNC to produce the criminal record certificate but cannot amend or delete information. The filtering of certain cautions and convictions from standard and enhanced certificates is determined by the DBS based on government legislation.

Deletion of records from National Police Systems

You have the right to ask the police to remove information under the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR’s Right to Erasure. The Deletion of records from National Police Systems guidance sets out the process for making a request.

The Record Deletion Process provides individuals with an opportunity to have their records reviewed by the police. However, submitting an application does not automatically mean that the record will be deleted.

Where a conviction is recorded accurately, we are unaware of a case where the police have agreed to remove it under this procedure

Can cautions be removed from the PNC?

It is only in exceptional circumstances that the police will remove a caution. What is defined as ‘exceptional circumstances’ can be found in Annex A of the National Police Chief’s Guidance.

Information provided by ACRO Criminal Records Office and set out in the table below shows that in 2017-2018, only 9% of requests to remove cautions/warnings/reprimands were approved with 18% of non-conviction information being removed.

The above figures relate to applications where a decision has been made to either approve or refuse the removal of data. The remaining numbers fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Outstanding, awaiting a decision from the relevant police force
  2. Outstanding, awaiting further information from the applicant
  3. Rejected by ACRO as ineligible *

* Ineligible applications can include:

  • Individuals with no PNC records
  • Individuals who are subject to ongoing investigations
  • Individuals seeking the deletion of a court conviction.

You may be able to have your caution ‘expunged’ from your criminal record by applying to the police, via the ACRO Records Deletion Unit. You can do this yourself by setting out a well-argued and comprehensive reason as to why the police should consider ‘expunging’ your caution. Alternatively, you could seek legal advice.

If the police agree to ‘expunge’ your caution then the PNC will show ‘no further action’ instead of the caution. If they agree to delete the caution in its entirety then the arrest event will no longer be recorded on the PNC. It will no longer be disclosed on a standard or enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. There is no standard time period to have a caution removed, and different police forces take differing periods of time to remove cautions (for example, the Metropolitan Police Force give a time estimate of around 12-18 months for a removal application to be processed).

You should be aware that even if your caution is ‘expunged’, the information held by the police force could still be disclosed under the ‘other relevant information’ section of an enhanced check, if the police feel that it is relevant and ought to be disclosed. You can challenge this decision.

Removing information from local police records

The Record Deletion Process only extends to records held on the Police National Computer, National DNA Database and fingerprint database. Locally held records, including custody photographs, are not covered by this process and instead, are managed by chief officers in accordance with the Authorised Professional Practice (APP) – Information Management.

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on understanding your criminal record
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

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