At PCD Solicitors we find the most significant part of most police investigations will take place at the police station. Usually, the suspect will be in custody after having been arrested although, exceptionally, they may be attending as a volunteer.
In reality what happens at the police station is often more important than what occurs later in determining the outcome of a case. Most cases are won or lost at the police station rather than the court. Confessions, sometimes false, are obtained from suspects, evidence gathered, deals done, and decisions are made which will inevitably influence the courts of subsequent events.
Being asked to voluntarily attend a police station as a suspect or unexpectedly being arrested is a distressing and anxious time. There are a number of rights provided to a suspect whilst they are in police custody, below are a few of the fundamental rights afforded to anyone who is attending the police station for interview.
The purpose of a police interview
The purpose of a police interview is to obtain evidence through questioning. Prior to the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), interviews were conducted much differently and, suspects did not enjoy the rights and protections afforded to them by PACE. It is important any person whether attending voluntary or, under arrest realises the importance of what they say and do at the police station and how this can impact the future of any possible prosecution.
Voluntary attendance at the police station
When investigating a suspect for a criminal offence it will not always be necessary or possible (where, for example, there is insufficient evidence) for the police formally to arrest a person. However, as volunteer, being interview, you are still protected by certain rights contained within PACE. As a volunteer you are also allowed to leave police custody at any time, unless you are formally told that you are being arrest. It is very important that if you are requested to attend for a voluntary interview you seek legal advice, officers usually approach suspects and ask them to come in for "an informal chat". This "chat" will still be under caution, it will be recorded and it can be used as evidence against you. During your time at the police station as a volunteer, you can be arrested.
Detained at the police station following arrest
A person under arrest has the following three main rights:
1. the right to have someone informed of their arrest (this can be delayed should certain grounds be met i.e will harm evidence or lead to putting another person in danger);
2. the right to consult in private with a solicitor, such advice being free and independent; and
3. the right to consult the Codes of Practice
A person must not be detained unless it is necessary to secure or preserve evidence relating to an offence for which they are under arrest or to obtain evidence by questioning.
A suspects detention in custody is subject to strict time limits, the first applicable time limit is 24 hours. This can be extended to a maximum period of 96 hours provided certain conditions are met.
Whilst at the police station suspects are entitled to be kept in suitable conditions and entitled to eight hours continuous rest, free from questioning.
The most important right of all is the right to legal advice. It is extremely important suspects take advantage of this fundamental right whether or not they are innocent or guilty of an offence.
We often have clients who have attended their initial interview alone and did so because "they had nothing to hide", regardless of this, investigations against them have continued.
All suspects should be cautioned at the beginning of the interview. Failure to caution could render any information provided to the police in interview inadmissible. This means any evidence the police obtain through questioning may not be able to be put before any court of law.
Officers should, before commencing an interview ensure that the suspect is fit for interview. Should there be any doubt as to the persons mental capacity or medical fitness a health care provider should be called to assess the suspect. If a suspect is considered vulnerable then they have the right for an appropriate adult to be present. An appropriate adult cannot provide legal advice and they are there only to facilitate and aid communication and to ensure the suspect is understanding the questions put to them.
Interviews must be conducted fairly and the officers should not be oppressive by any means.
A suspect is entitled to frequent breaks and can stop the interview at any time to consult with their legal advisor.
Our Role at the Interview
Our role during our time at the police station with a suspect is to protect and advance their legal rights. We are there to ensure a suspect is treated fairly and in accordance with the laws and procedures.
We will work with you to make sure you fully understand the choices available to you in terms of what you should or should not do in interview.
We will keep an accurate record of the interview and ensure the police are acting fairly and expeditiously at all times. We are trained in depth in relation to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and we can identify when an officer may be breaching any of the acts provisions or Codes.
We protect suspects from unnecessary pressure and distress to ensure a false confessions is not given and we of course know the protections afforded to vulnerable suspects.
When we arrive at the police station we will meet with the officer and yourself. We usually have a private conference with the officer to discuss the pre interview disclosure. We can question at this stage, any pre interview disclosure we feel is lacking in substance or clarity.
The disclosure provides us with details as to what has led to you being at the police station and what the nature of the allegation is. We do our best to obtain this in advance of our attendance to enable us to discuss this with you or, we obtain it at the police station. After our conference with the officer we then consult with you in private about the allegation. We will advise you on the law and the standard of evidence at this stage of the investigation. We will then discuss your interview options and best way forward.
Our aim at any investigative stage is to prevent a person from being prosecuted, to identify evidential weaknesses and, to put your defence forward in the strongest way possible at the earliest opportunity.
If you, a family member or, friend has been asked to attend the police station or has been arrested in relation to a sexual offence, please contact one of our specialist defence lawyers for a free and confidential initial chat.