What are the powers and duties of the custody officer?

The custody officer

If a person is arrested, they will be brought to a police station. On arrival at the police station, the arrested person will be brought before the custody officer as soon as possible. A custody officer is a designated police officer who must exercise duties and powers of a custody officer. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) gives guidelines and 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

Under PACE, the custody officer must firstly determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the arrested person with an offence and may detain them at the police station for such period as is necessary to enable them to do so.

If the custody officer feels they do not have such evidence before them, the person arrested shall be released either on bail or without bail, unless the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that their detention without being charged is necessary to secure or preserve evidence relating to an offence for which they are under arrest, or to obtain such evidence by questioning them. If the custody officer has reasonable grounds for so believing, they may authorise the person arrested to be kept in police detention.

Following authorisation, a custody record must be opened for the suspect. The suspect must also be informed of the reasons for their detention, and must be advised of their rights.

The custody officer has the power to arrange for the detainee to be searched and certain items can be seized. Under PACE, the items which can be seized include clothing or anything which could help the detainee damage themselves, others or the police property, or which could help them escape or interfere with evidence which relates to the offence.

The rights of a detained person

If someone is arrested and taken to the police station, they must be told their rights by the custody officer. These are the right to:

  • have someone informed of their arrest;
  • free legal advice;
  • view the police Code of Practice;
  • receive a written notice telling them about the above rights, as well as other rights such as to have:
    • adequate food and drink;
    • access to the toilet;
    • reasonable standards of physical comfort; and
    • medical attention if they’re feeling ill.

The detainee will be asked to sign the custody record to acknowledge receipt of these notices. Any refusal must be recorded on the custody record.

A suspect’s right to have someone informed of their arrest for an indictable offence may be delayed under PACE if a senior police officer has reasonable ground for believing that allowing the suspect to do so will:

  • interfere with, or harm, evidence connected with an indictable offence;
  • interfere with, or cause physical harm to, other people;
  • alert other people suspected of having committed an indictable offence but not yet arrested for it; or
  • hinder the recovery of property obtained in consequence of the commission of such an offence.

These rights may also be delayed if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that:

  • the person detained for an indictable offence has benefited from their criminal conduct (decided in accordance with Pt 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002); and
  • the recovery of the value of the property constituting that benefit will be hindered by the exercise of either right.

In some circumstances it is possible to delay access to a solicitor but this is very rare. It would have to be proved that the detained person could 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

So far as it is practicable, not more than one detainee should be detained in each cell. The cells must be clean and they must be properly heated and ventilated. 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 and one main meal per day.

Reviews of a detainee’s detention must be carried out. Such a review must consider 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 it is proved that it is lawful.

Custody clock

Custody clock is an expression which refers to the time for which a detainee is detained. For most offences the police may only detain a person for a maximum of 24 hours without charging them. This can be extended with permission from an officer with the rank of superintendent or above (an extra 12 hours) or a magistrate (up to a maximum of 96 hours). They can be held without charge for up to 14 days if they’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.

If the suspect is not charged with an offence by the time the maximum time has expired, the police must release them.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.