What are the powers and duties of the custody officer?

The custody officer 

If a person is arrested, subsequently he or she will be brought to the police station. On arrival at the police station the arrested person will be introduced to the custody officer. Custody officer is a designated police officer who must exercise duties and powers of a custody officer. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act gives guidelines and imposes rules on the procedure which should be followed after the arrested person is brought to the police station.

Powers and Duties of the custody officer

As in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the custody officer must first of all determine whether there is sufficient evidence so that he can charge the arrested person with an offence. If the custody officer is unable to determine that there was such sufficient evidence, the arrested person must be released. The custody officer may not be willing to release the arrested person if he believes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the detention of the arrested person is absolutely necessary. Such reasonable grounds are for instance the need to secure the evidence, or the need to obtain the evidence by the questioning of the arrested person. In case such grounds are found, the custody officer must then authorise the detention of the suspected person. Following the authorisation, the custody record must be open for the suspect, the suspect must also be informed of the reasons for his detention, and the suspect must be also advised of his rights. The custody officer has the power to arrange for the detainee to be searched and certain items can be seized. As in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the items which can be seized include clothing or anything which could help the detainee damage himself, others or the police property, or which could help him escape or interfere with evidence which relates to the offence. 

The rights of a detained person

It is the custody officer’s responsibility to make sure that the detainee is informed of his rights while he is detained. Again as in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act the detained person has the right not to be held incommunicado which in other words means that he has the right to inform a member of his family or some other person of his detention. Such right can be delayed in some circumstances. Some examples of those circumstances include the situation where such notification of his detention would interfere with destruction of the evidence relating to the offence for which he was charge or if such action caused harm to some other persons, or the arrested would notify another suspect or it would assist in hindering the recovery of property which was obtained as a result of committing that offence. The right to delay the right to notify someone of the detention can take place if the detained is arrested for an indictable offence, authorisation for the delay is in writing and by an inspector and the inspector must have reasonable grounds to believe that if the person was detained this would lead to the interference with the investigation of the offence. The detained has a further right to consult with a solicitor. Consultation is private and can take place at any time. In some circumstances it is possible to delay an access to a solicitor but this is very rare. It would have to be proved that the detained person can mislead a solicitor and that there is more than a substantial risk that the detained will by this way convey the information. 

Conditions of detention

Each cell should have not more than one detainee. The cells must be clean and there must be proper heating and ventilation. The cell must be provided with the bedding. The detainee must be allowed to go to the toilet and to use bathroom facilities. The detainee is entitled to two light meals as well as one main meal per day. As in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act during the time the detainee is detained, reviews of his detention must be carried out. Such a review must consider and analyse whether the grounds for detention still exist. If a person is arrested but not charged with an offence yet, detention review must be carried out by an inspector who is not investigating a case. The first review of the detention takes place after the first six hours of the detention the next reviews follow every nine hours. If the inspector fails to make such a review at an appropriate time, this will render the detention unlawful until such time when it is proved that it is lawful. 

Detention clock

Detention clock is an expression which refers to the time for which a detainee is detained. The detainee can be held in the custody for a maximum of 24 hours if he has not been charged. Generally, the time is counted from the point when the suspect is brought to the police station. After the expiry of the 24 hour period the suspect must either be charged or released from the custody. Detention can be extended for 12 more hours; the maximum period of detention at the police station is 36 hours. In order for this to take place, the offence must be an indictable offence, the superintendent must authorise such extension, investigation must be taking place and there must be grounds for the detention. It is possible for the police to apply to the Magistrates Court for a warrant of further detention. Such warrant may authorise the police to extend detention to a maximum of 96 hours.