Police station interviews

Detention at a police station

If you are arrested and taken to a police station, you must be told your rights by the custody officer. These are the right to:

  • have someone informed of your arrest;
  • free legal advice;
  • view the police Code of Practice;
  • medical attention if you’re feeling ill;
  • see a written notice telling you about your rights (eg, regular breaks for food and to use the toilet).

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). You can be held without charge for up to 14 days if you’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.

If you are not charged with an offence by the time the maximum time has expired, the police must release you.

Police interviews

You may be interviewed by the police at the police station. Your lawyer can be there if you wish and you may take regular breaks. If you have asked for legal advice, the police cannot question you until you have received it (apart from in some very serious cases).

Before the interview starts you should be cautioned and it must be pointed out that you do not have to say anything but it may harm you defence if you do not mention something when questioned which you later rely on in court.

The police will explain that speaking to them is voluntary and if you do not wish to say anything then you may exercise this right. If you do decide to talk to the police, everything you say may be recorded and played to the court if you plead not guilty to the charge and it goes to a trial.

Usually two police officers will be present for the interview; they will both ask you questions and write notes.

Fingerprints and other samples may also be taken. These may be taken without your consent and include:

  • saliva;
  • photos;
  • oral swabs;
  • footwear impressions.

Other samples can be requested but these require consent from you and a senior police officer. Examples include:

  • urine;
  • blood;
  • semen;
  • dental impressions.

The information from these samples will be stored in a database and can be used to identify you if you get arrested again.

What happens if you’re mentally vulnerable or young?

In the case of juveniles (those under 17) and mentally vulnerable people, an ’appropriate adult’ must be present during questioning to make sure the accused fully understands what is happening. This could be a relative, guardian or carer.

The appropriate adult is not permitted to provide legal advice, but they can request legal advice on your behalf.

Your appropriate adult is allowed to see your custody record which will show:

  • your personal details;
  • the time the policed arrested you;
  • the time you arrived at the police station;
  • the time you went into the cells and when the police checked on you;
  • anything else that happened while you were at the police station.

If there is no parent, guardian or social worker available to act as the appropriate adult, the police may select an ‘impartial adult’ from a volunteers list to perform the task.

What happens after the interview?

Once the interview has finished, if there is not sufficient evidence to charge you, you could be released on police bail. This means you will have to return to the station when asked after the police have investigated further.

If there is sufficient evidence, you will be charged. The police may grant you unconditional bail or bail with conditions attached (eg, surrendering your passport or a curfew) to ensure you follow the stipulations of your bail and don’t commit or interfere with any witnesses during your release.

If you are charged with a serious offence, bail may be refused and you will probably be remanded in custody by magistrates until your trial. If you are found guilty, the time you have already spent in prison before your trial will be deducted from your final sentence.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.