A guide to arrest and investigation
In what circumstances can the police arrest me?
The police can arrest any suspect for an offence when it is ‘reasonably necessary’ to do so.
What is arrest?
An arrest is simply a mechanism whereby the police can suspend the ordinary rights of an individual to exercise their right to liberty.
Why may the police want to arrest me?
Usually because you are a suspect in an investigation into an alleged criminal offence. They must have reasonable grounds to suspect your involvement. However, just because you have been arrested this does not mean that you are guilty of the suspected crime. Many people are arrested on suspicion of crimes they have not committed.
What happens when I am arrested?
You will be taken as soon as practicable to a police station where a custody officer will be asked to authorise your detention usually for the purpose of questioning in a tape recorded interview. The police will also take your fingerprints and a sample of DNA using a mouth swab. You will also be asked a number of personal questions which are designed to assist the police in understanding whether you have any medical problems or special needs they should know about whilst you are in custody.
Rights on arrest at the police station?
Yes, you do. In fact, the fundamental right is to consult the Code of Practice which governs your detention at the police station. This sets out your rights and entitlements whilst at the police station including the right to notify somebody that you have been arrested and the right to free and independent legal advice.
How long can the police keep me at the police station?
In most circumstances the maximum period the police can detain you without charge is 24 hours. You should not worry because most people are in police detention for much less time than that. Usually, the police will just keep you for as long as it takes to interview you. In some cases where the police are investigating serious crimes, and certain criteria are satisfied, they can ask a senior officer to authorise detention for a further period of up to 12 hours (to a maximum of 36 hours). In the most exceptional circumstances, the police can ask a Magistrate to detain a suspect for periods up to a maximum of 72 hours.
Am I entitled to legal advice whilst at the police station?
Yes you are. The police will ask you whether you want to have legal advice whilst the police station. If you do not know a solicitor to contact, there is always a duty solicitor available who you can speak to free of charge. In some instances, for example before giving an evidential breath sample, your right to legal advice can be lawfully delayed.
Am I allowed to telephone anybody else?
You are entitled to have somebody notified that you have been arrested and, in most instances, you will be permitted to telephone that person yourself.
How long will the police investigation process take?
This really depends on the individual circumstances of the offence being investigated and the resources that the police are prepared to dedicate to it. Some straightforward investigations take just a matter of hours. If the police are investigating a complex serious fraud, for example, then it has been known to stretch to a number of years. In a murder investigation, the police will usually dedicate substantial resources which shorten the investigation period.
After I have been interviewed what actually happens?
Again this very much depends on the individual circumstances of your case. Sometimes the police will decide straight away that they do not wish to take any further action. Sometimes they will go to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and ask for advice. The CPS may recommend that the police charge you with an offence. Sometimes you will be bailed to come back to the police station at a later date so that they can take further steps in their investigation. For example, you may be asked to participate in an identification procedure.
What does police bail mean?
It means that you have a legal obligation to return to the police station at the time and date that is specified. Sometimes, the police can impose conditions on your bail. This means that they can prevent you, for example, to go to a certain place or to contact a certain individual. They may require you to live at a certain address.
What does breaching police bail mean?
This means disobeying the terms of your bail either by failing to turn up when you are required to do so or by not complying with the conditions of your bail.
What can happen if I breach my bail?
You are liable to be arrested and possibly brought before a court in custody to explain yourself. In some instances, you could be sent to prison.
What will happen if the police charge me?
The decision to charge any person with an offence is usually taken by the CPS. If the CPS decides there is sufficient evidence to charge you with an offence then you will be taken before a custody sergeant who will read out the alleged offence to you. You will be given a date to appear before a Magistrates Court at some time in the days and weeks following. Your fingerprints will be recorded and you will be photographed. If you are charged with an offence, this is simply a formal accusation. It does not mean you have been convicted of that offence. You are entitled to dispute the facts of the case by pleading “not guilty” at Court and having a trial.