Maybe you’ve been arrested before, maybe you haven’t. Either way, we’re not here to judge you. What we will do, however, is give you this complete guide to being arrested by police.
In this clear and concise overview, we will detail what rights you have and do not have when you are arrested, as well what powers the police have and do not have while arresting you. We will also examine what you are entitled to if you are being held in police custody and how you will be expected to conduct yourself during this time.
We are living in uncertain times. Often, information is the best safeguard against tragedy. We therefore recommend that you protect yourself by learning as much as you can about your individual rights and freedoms as a British citizen. You can start right here.
Police Arrest Procedure
Police must adhere to a strict procedure whenever they arrest a person.
Firstly, the arresting officers must identify themselves as police. They should also inform the suspect that they are being arrested, as well as informing them of the crime they are suspected to have committed. Next, police will explain that the individual is being detained and is not free to leave.
Police will take some personal details from the suspect before formally beginning to detain them. The suspect may be placed in handcuffs; however, this is not always necessary and any equipment will be removed.
At this point, if the suspect attempts to fight back or flee, reasonable force can be used, either to detain the suspect or for police to defend themselves from harm.
The term ‘reasonable force’ refers to a necessary action taken in self-defence or the protection of people or property. Reasonable force is defensive in nature and must always be comparable to the threat being faced at the time. It is not permissible, for example, for a police officer to harm a suspect who is complying with instructions or not presenting a threat.
If a person is being arrested, police are allowed to search them with or without their consent. If the suspect is found to be in possession of any illegal items, these will be entered into evidence, whether they pertain to the alleged crime or not.
From there, the suspect will be taken to the police station and formally placed into police custody.
If the suspect is below 18 years of age, police must notify parents, guardians or carers as soon as the suspect arrives at the police station. If the suspect is at school at the time of the arrest, the headteacher would need to be informed. Police can only make arrests at schools in cases where this is unavoidable.
At the Police Station
When the suspect arrives at the police station, he or she will be informed as to the precise nature of their rights. These will be explained verbally as well as provided to them in writing.
At this point, the suspect should ask any questions they may have, and clear, understandable answers should be provided to them. Issues of language or disability that may interfere with communication will also likely be addressed at this stage.
The suspect will then be formally booked in, with all relevant details taken from them. After this, they will be shown to a holding cell.
The suspect may speak confidentially with their solicitor at this time, or else have the police contact somebody close to them (e.g., a parent/guardian, close friend or work colleague). If the suspect is under 17 years old, they must be accompanied by an appropriate adult.
Eventually, the suspect will be interviewed in order that the details of their account can be taken down and kept as evidence.
A suspect that has not been formally charged with committing a crime may be held for no more than 24 hours. After that, they must either be formally charged or released. This number may be extended to as much as 96 hours in cases of very serious crimes, such as murder. A person suspected of charges relating to terrorism can be held for as long as two weeks without being charged.
If the police have enough evidence that the suspect is guilty, the person will be formally charged with the crime for which they have been arrested. The police can then decide whether or not to allow the person out on bail.
Bail essentially means that the suspect may return home while they await trial. In cases of first offenses or non-violent crime, the suspect is likely to be given bail. However, in cases where the suspect has already had multiple convictions or is charged with committing violent crimes, police will likely detain the suspect until their trial.
All bail is conditional and will be granted on the proviso that the suspect agrees to the terms. Violation of these terms upon release can lead to the suspect being arrested again and, if they are arrested in future, it will increase their likelihood of not being granted bail at that time.
At this point it would be useful to pass over any body camera footage, to provide accurate information about the incident. Also if you are wearing a security vest, hi viz jacket or a stab proof vest these might be taken for evidence.
What Powers do the Police have?
The police have the power to arrest anyone so long as they feel there is cause to do so. A person may be arrested for something as simple as not wanting to tell a police officer their name. As part of the arrest procedure, police also have the power to detain people for a limited time against their will.
Police have the right to use reasonable force while arresting an uncooperative or violent individual and, under certain circumstances, they may also enter a private residence without invitation.
Police have the power to seize various items considered to be dangerous, illegal or evidence of a crime. As a result, they also have the power to perform a ‘stop and search’. This is the practice of searching members of the public that match the descriptions of those who are thought to have committed a crime.
More controversially, it can also refer to the practice of performing random searches upon members of the public who have committed no obvious crime. The intention of a random ‘stop and search’ is the discovery and subsequent confiscation of weapons, illegal drugs and/or other contraband. A person found to be in possession of such items can then be arrested. Additionally, if an innocent person refuses to comply with a stop and search, he or she can also be arrested.
Whether or not this amounts to a violation of basic civil liberties has been hotly debated for years. Nevertheless, whether we agree with random ‘stop and searches’ or not, it is presently legal for police to engage in such actions.
Once an individual has been arrested, police have the power to photograph them (whether they consent or not) as well as to take their fingerprints. If the suspect has been charged, samples of their DNA may be taken (these usually come from saliva or hair).
If the suspect has not been formally charged, police must ask for consent to obtain DNA evidence from them. Evidence collected is stored by the police, whether the suspect is later determined to be innocent or not. However, in cases where the subject is innocent, it will be destroyed after 5 years.
When the suspect is at the police station, police have the power to conduct a search at any time. This may include a strip search. Strip searches must only be conducted in private and only by a member of the same sex as the suspect. If the suspect is below 17 years of age, they may request the presence of a trusted adult, although they can also opt not to have an adult present if they prefer.
Police may also divert traffic, as well as demand documents and identification from any individual driving a vehicle on a public road.
Police may not lie to or knowingly deceive a suspect at any time. Their jobs are on the line if they do.
What are Your Rights?
Certain rights apply whenever a person is arrested in the UK.
These rights include access to free legal advice, the option to inform someone that they have been arrested and access to any medical care the individual may require at the time of their arrest or detainment.
A written copy of the person’s rights must be provided to the person being arrested. These rights should also be issued verbally as the arrest is being made.
The suspect does have the right to remain silent, as the famous line has it, but this is almost never advisable, as it makes the suspect look guilty and can greatly harm their case in the long run.
Suspects also have what is known as the ‘right of confrontation’. This means that they can, in most cases, be told who their accuser is.
The suspect has the right not to be harmed without cause, for example, if a police officer hurts them deliberately when they are fully compliant with instructions.
The arrested person has the right to claim compensation in cases whereby the arrest was unlawful, items were lost or damaged during the arrest or any undue harm was visited upon the individual as a result of the arrest.
What are you Entitled to?
Under British law, a person who has been arrested or is being detained post-arrest is entitled to receive medical care if they happen to be feeling unwell.
Suspects are also legally entitled to basic physical comforts while being detained. This does not mean that temporary prisoners enjoy luxury treatment, it simply means that they will be given a place to sit down, room to stand up and walk a few paces and access to toilet/washing facilities and clean bedding.
If a person is held for the full 24-hour period, 8 hours of uninterrupted rest/sleep time must be allowed.
Where possible, cells will be occupied by only one person at a time and will be reasonably well ventilated and lit, as well as benefiting from heating in the colder months. In cases of prolonged imprisonment, brief periods of outdoor exercise may be permitted.
A person being detained will be given three meals a day, as well as drinks, (both with meals and upon specific request).
Should they request to do so, detainees are also entitled to read the police code of practice, which can be a useful thing to do if the person feels that they are being treated unfairly.
People may also formally complain about their treatment by police. Should their complaints be found to have merit (specifically, this would mean that the police have violated their code of practice), the detainee may be provided with anything from a formal apology to assurances that the officers that violated the code will be disciplined. The outcomes depend mainly on the severity of the complaint(s) being made.
A person that has been arrested will also receive free legal advice from a duty solicitor if they do not have a solicitor working for them at the time of the arrest. Detainees have the right to speak to a solicitor at any time of the day or night.
Suspects that are being held in police custody have the right to legal representation.
A duty solicitor (who is unaffiliated with the police), will be brought in to offer legal advice and guidance. If the suspect already has legal representation, then their solicitor will be notified. Suspects also have the option of selecting a solicitor from the phone book to represent them (although they will do this at their own expense).
The suspect has the right to consult privately with their solicitor. These consultations are kept strictly confidential. Legally, the suspect has the right to have a solicitor present for their interview, except in certain cases. If the suspect requests the presence of a lawyer, the interview will be delayed until one can be sent for.
Once the suspect has been arrested and booked in, police officers will conduct a formal interview with them. Footage or audio recordings from this interview are regarded as key pieces of evidence and are often reviewed at trial, so the interview is very important for both parties.
As with the arrest itself, the interview is governed by strict procedure.
First of all, the officer will explain that the suspect does not have to say anything in the interview, but that failure to do so could harm their case in the long term. The precise wording used is,
“You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do or say may be given in evidence.”
This is known as a ‘caution’.
In times past, interviews were typically written down. Later, they were recorded on tape. Today, interviews are still recorded in audio form, but they can also be videoed.
Suspects may decline to have their interviews filmed or recorded, although this forces their accounts to rely entirely on handwritten notes taken during the interview and is therefore highly inadvisable.
If a person has a disability that requires the presence of a carer, said carer must be present for their interview. If the person’s grasp of the English language is not adequate enough for them to take part in the interview, an interpreter must be provided to them.
As the interview begins in earnest, the officers present (there will be at least two) will introduce themselves for the purposes of the recording, as will the solicitor and the suspect. They will then outline the reasons that they are speaking to the suspect and then ask the suspect to recount their version of events.
Following this, the officers will proceed to question the suspect on a range of topics. These may include things like where the suspect was at the time the crime was committed, what their usual routine for that time of day is and if anyone can corroborate their story.
By asking these questions, officers are seeking to create a timeline of events according to the suspect’s account. If the suspect claims to have been at work until 6:00PM, for example, investigators can verify this by checking the company’s records. If the times match, this can be evidence that the suspect is innocent. If they do not, it can be seen as evidence to the contrary.
Interviews are rarely as fraught and combative as you might have seen on television and in films. In fact, many officers prefer to put the suspects at ease by creating a comfortable rapport with them. Sometimes, officers will ask questions that have nothing at all to do with the case or their agenda, simply to encourage the suspect to talk freely and therefore incriminate or exonerate themselves.
An interview can take as little as 15 minutes. However, the average time taken is between 30 minutes and 90 minutes. The length of the interview is not always an indicator of the officers’ belief in the suspect’s innocence or guilt. Some people just interview better than others and officers will probably understand that the suspects are nervous and hesitant to offer more details than are requested. That said, the shortest interviews will be reserved for cases where the suspect’s innocence can be easily demonstrated, and credible answers are given to all questions.
As a matter of course, the suspect will be asked to clarify certain points or key pieces of information at the end of the interview. It hurts their story’s credibility if these clarifications significantly deviate from the story they have relayed throughout the interview.
The legal representative should ask for a copy of the interview at the end, with the master copy being kept by police as evidence.
Once the interview is over, suspects may be formally charged with a crime, released without charge or released on bail awaiting trial. In some cases, suspects are then moved to a new location and detained there until a trial can be arranged or held. However, in most cases, the end of the interview will conclude the suspect’s arrest.
Suspects will be presented with another written notice of their rights and sent on their way either to their specific place of residence or else to further incarceration.
We hope you learned something from our guide. Being arrested can be a nerve-wracking experience to say the least, but modern police methods are a significant improvement over the way things were just a few decades ago. Things are by no means perfect right now, but they are certainly better than they were.
If you are ever arrested, our advice to you is to cooperate fully, keep your cool and know your rights.