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In England and Wales, a court can impose an absolute discharge if it concludes that 'it is inexpedient to inflict punishment'. The power to do this is granted by s12(1) Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.

Section 14(1) of the Act provides that—

... a conviction of an offence for which an order is made under section 12 above discharging the offender absolutely or conditionally shall be deemed not to be a conviction for any purpose other than the purposes of the proceedings in which the order is made ...

However, the Crown Prosecution Service's guide to sentencing says this:

Absolute discharge - no further action is taken, since either the offence was very minor, or the court considers that the experience has been enough of a deterrent. The offender will receive a criminal record.

(emphasis mine in both extracts)

If a person receives an absolute discharge and also a criminal record, surely this is treating the discharge as a conviction, which appears to fly in the face of s14(1) above.

Does an absolute discharge result in a criminal record and, if so, how is this squared with s14(1) of the 2000 Act?

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Yes, "The offender will receive a criminal record."

But, you ask, "How is this squared with s14(1) of the 2000 Act?"

Well, you will note that it states that it "shall be deemed not to be a conviction for any purpose other than the purposes of the proceedings." The key here is "other than the purposes of the proceedings" which means that, although there is no further punishment for your crime, you have still been convicted officially and it will be noted (on your record) as per the proceedings, and may be brought up in any subsequent proceedings ( "and of any subsequent proceedings which may be taken against the offender under section 13 above." ).

You will also note section 12(7):

"Nothing in this section shall be construed as preventing a court, on discharging an offender absolutely or conditionally in respect of any offence, from making an order for costs against the offender or imposing any disqualification on him or from making in respect of the offence an order under section 130, 143 or 148 below (compensation orders, deprivation orders and restitution orders)."

Which further shows that an absolute discharge is not an absolute pardon, and should not be thought of as such. Rather, "You are very much guilty, but of such a minor crime that the experience of a trial has probably been enough, so we'll let you go without additional punishment."

  • I found this on unanswered questions and have only just noticed how long it's been here. Still relevant to anyone searching for this, I suppose. – E404 Jan 5 '17 at 19:11
  • Many thanks for your answer. Can you cite authority for any of these points? I ask because while your reasoning is sound I'm not entirely convinced by your interpretation of 'other than the purposes of the proceedings'. Firstly, the discharge can't be brought up in any proceedings, only those brought under s13, and that section only applies to conditional and not absolute discharges. Secondly, while I take your point that s12(7) details limited further actions that can be taken following an AD, it's a leap to suggest that this implies a criminal record will be received. – Flup Jan 6 '17 at 7:39
  • @Flup I was simply trying to show that that the law does not imply that an AD or CD is a complete writeoff of the crime, rather they will simply take no further action. I do not mean to imply that it can be brought up in any proceeding, or that it explicitly suggests a record is received. Only that a AD is still a conviction, despite lack of further punishment, and, as such, a record is received as per the Crown Prosecution Service's guide to sentencing. – E404 Jan 6 '17 at 9:54

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