What Happens if you’re Arrested by the Police?


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Created on March 23, 2020

The arrest

If the police suspect that you have committed a criminal offence, it is possible that you will be arrested and detained at a local police custody centre where you will be interviewed about the alleged offence. 

In order to arrest you, the police have to be sure that an arrest is ‘necessary’.  Usually, it is for the purposes of a prompt and effective investigation, so that evidence can be secured and preserved and a suspect can be interviewed without an opportunity to fabricate a defence. Although there are a number of reasons why an arrest may be considered necessary, it is important that the police consider this test carefully before arresting someone, because an offence can be investigated without the need for an arrest and there are a number of consequences that flow from an arrest.  

Once arrested, you will be ‘booked in’ by a Custody Sergeant who must ensure that your continued detention is lawful. The Custody Sergeant is responsible for the care of all suspects in their custody. 

A Custody Record will be opened on the police computer system which will contain your name, date of birth and address and you will be asked a number of questions about your health (to ensure that you can be properly looked after while in custody). 

You will be searched and any items of your property (such as cash, jewellery, keys) will be removed and stored by the police. Some may be seized for evidential purposes. If your clothing has a draw string this may be removed and replacement clothes provided. 

A voluntary interview

The need for an interview should not justify an arrest in itself. For example, if the alleged offence took place some time ago the opportunity to secure and preserve evidence may already have been lost.  If an arrest is not deeded necessary, the police can invite you to attend an interview on a voluntary basis.

How long can I be held in custody?

Generally speaking, you can be held in custody for up to 24 hours (unless certain circumstances justify an extension of this period). This is not a target; it is a limit, so the police should release you as soon as possible once an interview has taken place and decision made as to the disposal of your case. However, even in very straightforward cases, this may amount to a number of hours. 

Your Rights

When you are booked in, you will be read your ‘rights’. This includes the right to have someone informed of your arrest (the police may make this call on your behalf; the right does not include speaking to them yourself, although this may be allowed at the discretion of the Custody Sergeant). You also have the right to read the rules that the police must abide by called the PACE Codes of Practice but, perhaps most importantly, you have the right to Free and Independent Legal Advice.

Legal Advice

You have the ongoing right to speak to a legal advisor throughout your time in custody. You may choose your own solicitor or you may request the services of the Duty Solicitor. If you choose to exercise your right to have legal advice, the police will contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre who will notify your solicitor or the Duty Solicitor. You should then receive a call from the legal advisor within 45 minutes.  

What happens next?

Once you have been booked in, you will be put in a cell to wait for the investigating police officers to be ready for interview.  This usually takes a number of hours and can be overnight, depending on the time of day.  The cell will be covered by CCTV and there will be an intercom system which can be used to contact the custody staff and make requests for food or drink etc.  You will usually have to remove your shoes and leave them outside the cell door.

Ready for interview

When the investigating officers are ready to interview you, the legal advisor will be asked to attend the custody centre (if you have requested one).  The legal advisor should attend within 45 minutes.  The interviewing officer(s) will provide the legal advisor with disclosure and the legal advisor will try to obtain as much information as possible about the extent of the evidence the police have. 

The police do not have to give all the information requested – they can withhold some information – but they cannot lie or mislead the legal advisor.  It is also considered sensible for the police to provide the legal advisor with sufficient information so that they can properly advise their client.  A complete lack of disclosure will almost certainly lead to “no comment” advice, which would probably be considered justified in the circumstances. Click here to read our blog on going No Comment.

Confidential Consultation

Your legal advisor will then have a private consultation with you. They will advise you about the reason for your arrest, the strength of the evidence against you and the law. They will take your instructions about what you say has happened and, on the basis of your instructions, give you advice about how to approach the interview.

This usually comes down to whether you answer questions or exercise your right to silence. Giving a no comment interview can have repercussions further down the line and the legal advisor will explain these. However, it should not be assumed that saying nothing means that you are guilty. It is the reason for the decision to remain silent that matters. Click here to read more about going No Comment.

The interview

The interview will be recorded and your legal advisor will remain with you throughout the interview to ensure that the police are conducting it in accordance with the law and to provide you with access to ongoing legal advice. 

After interview, the officers will report to the Custody Sergeant and seek advice from their superior officer or from the Crown Prosecution Service about what to do next. Your legal advisor will leave the police station and you will usually have to wait back in a cell. 

The options for the police at this stage are to charge you with an offence, bail you for a period of time to allow for further investigation (generally up to 28 days), release you under investigation (without charge while the investigation continues) or take “no further action” where the case will be effectively closed.  

Being released

Before being released from custody, you will have your fingerprints taken, a DNA sample taken (a mouth swab) and a photograph taken. The police have the power to carry out these functions without consent.  Any property that was taken from you and which has not been seized as potential evidence, will be returned to you.

If you have been charged with any offences, you will be provided with a copy of the charge sheet and bailed to attend court on a given date and time. If you are bailed for further investigation, you will be given a bail sheet, informing you when you must return to the police station. 

In some cases, if you have been charged, the police may decide to remand you in custody to be produced before the next Magistrates’ Court which is usually the next day. Generally, that only happens in serious cases or where you have a bad criminal record or a history of failing to attend court.  Most people will be bailed to attend court. 

How can Old Bailey Solicitors help?

If you are arrested, you can request the services of Old Bailey Solicitors when you are booked in at the custody desk.  The police will contact us on your behalf. 

If you are invited to attend the police station for a voluntary interview, you can let us know and a member of our team will attend with you.  We will even make the arrangements for you if you prefer. 

If you have been arrested and bailed or released pending further investigation, you can contact us to arrange an appointment or to request that we attend with you on the next occasion. 

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