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Been Arrested: What are Your Rights?

If you have been arrested what are your rights and what happens? UK police must follow strict rules if you are being arrested or getting questioned.

BEING ARRESTED YOUR RIGHTS: As a rule the police will take you to a police station if you get arrested.

You can get legal advice at a police station if you get charged with a crime.

After the arrest, you will get held in custody inside a police cell. You will then get questioned by police officers about the type of crime they think you committed.

Once they have finished their questioning you may either get released or charged with a crime.

If the police charge you, they will keep you in custody inside the prison cell. You will get searched. The police custody officer will keep your possessions while you remain in the cell.

At that time the custody officer at the police station must explain your rights. While you are in custody you have the right to:

  • Get free legal advice.
  • Tell someone where you are.
  • Have medical help if you feel ill.
  • See the rules the police must follow (Police Codes of Practice).
  • See a written notice telling you about your rights (e.g. regular breaks for food and to use the toilet)

Note: You can ask for a notice in your language or get an interpreter to explain the notice. If you are being arrested your rights and the law differ in Scotland.

Process for Young People Under 18 and Vulnerable Adults

If the person being arrested is under 18 or a vulnerable adult, the police must try to contact a parent, carer, or a guardian.

You should have an effective appropriate adult at the police station to help you. The ‘appropriate adult’ should be present and with you during all questioning and searching.

For young children and mentally vulnerable people an appropriate adult can be:

  • Your parent, child careworker, or guardian
  • A social worker
  • Another family member or friend (aged at least 18)
  • A volunteer aged 18 or older

Note: The National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) provides effective appropriate adult services in England and Wales.

UK Arrest Rights during Police Questioning

During police questioning they may ask questions about the crime they suspect you committing. The police will record the entire questioning procedure.

Having been arrested your rights allow you to not answer the questions. But there may be consequences later if you do not answer the questions.

Police must explain your rights further by reading you the police caution.

The Police Caution When Arresting

“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 say may be given in evidence.”

Police Cautions and Penalty Notices

You can get a caution (a warning) or a penalty notice from the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for committing a minor crime.

Being Cautioned

A police caution can be handed out to anyone from the age of ten (the age of criminal responsibility) for minor crimes. A typical example would be scribbling graffiti on a bus shelter.

You would need to admit the offence and agree to be cautioned. But, disagreeing or otherwise means you can be arrested and charged.

In fact, a police caution is not a criminal conviction. But, it can be used as evidence showing bad character if you appear in court for another crime.

Note: There are four types of criminal record checks that organisations can conduct. A caution (warning) could show up on a standard and an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

Penalty Notices for Disorder

You cannot get a penalty notice for disorder unless you are at least eighteen (18) years old. Some of the common offences they are given out for, include:

  • Being drunk and disorderly in a public place
  • Possession of cannabis
  • Shoplifting

As a rule, you would not get a criminal conviction providing you sign the penalty notice ticket and then pay the penalty.

What if you disagree with the penalty notice?

In this case, you can ask for a trial. But, not asking for a trial means you would get a bigger fine if you fail to pay the charge.

Note: You can pay your fixed penalty online through the Home Office website. Some of the rules on police and fiscal warnings and fixed penalty notices differ in Scotland.

Conditional Cautions

As the title suggests, there will be conditions attached to conditional cautions. So, you would need to comply with certain rules and restrictions if you get a conditional caution, such as:

  • Agreeing to treatment in cases of drug abuse.
  • Repairing the damage cause to a property.

Note: Failing to stick to the conditions attached to the caution means you could be charged with a crime.

How Long Can Police Keep You in Custody?

The police can keep you in custody you for up to 24 hours. After holding you for twenty four hours they have to release you or charge you with a crime. They can apply for an extension to hold you for up to 36 or 96 hours. This is more likely to happen if they suspect you of a doing a serious crime such as murder.

Note: UK police can hold you without charge for up to 14 days if they arrest you under the Terrorism Act.

Being Released on Bail in the UK

You may get released on bail. That means the police let you leave custody because they do not have enough evidence to charge you. There is no payment required if you get released on police bail. But, you will need to return to the police station for further questioning when asked to do so.

You can also get released on conditional bail. That means the police have charged you and they think you are a risk for:

  • Committing another offence.
  • Failing to turn up at the court.
  • Intimidating other witnesses.
  • Obstruct the course of justice.

Getting released on bail means your freedom gets restricted in some way. A typical example could be having a curfew imposed on you if you committed your offence at night.

Police Taking Fingerprints, Photographs and Samples

As a member of the public you have legal rights when you are being arrested. The police have rights too. Police forces in the United Kingdom have the right to take photographs of you if they arrest you.

The police can also take your fingerprints and a DNA sample without your permission. When you carry out a DNA test the sample can come from:

  • A mouth swab or head hair root.
  • A swab of the skin surface of your arms and hands.

But, the police need your permission and the authority of a senior police officer for certain other samples. For example when taking samples of blood, urine, or dental impressions.

This rule does not apply if blood or urine samples get taken in connection with drug or drink driving offences.

Note: The police store information from fingerprints and samples in the Police National Computer database.

You can find out what information the police store on their database. Contact your local police station and ask them for a copy of your police records.

But you will need to write to your local police to get your personal information removed from the police database. The same rule applies in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

The police will only remove your personal details from the database if:

  • Your offence no longer exists as a record.
  • Something in the police process was unlawful (e.g. the police stop and search powers were discriminatory).

Get Legal Advice at the Police Station

How to get Free Legal Advice UK

The police must inform you about your right to free legal advice. It should happen after you have been arrested but before you get questioned at a police station. You can:

  • Ask for the ‘duty solicitor’ based at the police station. Duty solicitors are available 24 hours a day and they work independent of the police.
  • Tell the police you would like legal advice. They will then contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC).
  • Ask the police to contact a solicitor for you (e.g. use your own legal advice)

In some cases you may get free legal advice offered over the phone instead of employing a duty solicitor. This happens more often in cases for less serious offences, such as being disorderly. This free advice also operates independent of the police.

Being Questioned by Police Without Legal Advice

What happens once you ask for legal advice? As a rule, from moment forward the police cannot question you until you have it. But, there are some exceptions.

The police have authority to make you wait for legal advice in the most serious cases. But this can only happen if a senior officer agrees to it.

Even so, the longest they can force you to wait before getting legal advice is 36 hours after arriving at the police station. It can extend to 48 hours for incidents of suspected terrorism.

Note: Remember you have the right to free legal advice if you get questioned by the police.

What are Your Rights for Free Legal Advice

Members of the public have the right to free legal advice called ‘legal aid‘ if you get questioned at a police station. You can still change your mind later on during the proceedings if you first turn it down.

Police Powers of Arrest and Your Rights

The police will need to have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are involved in a crime to arrest you. In order words, they must believe that your arrest is necessary.

Police officers have powers to arrest suspects anywhere and at any time. It means you can be arrested at home, at work, or in the street.

Police Arrest Procedure UK

So, what happens if you get arrested? The police must follow set procedures and would need to:

  1. Identify themselves as members of the police force.
  2. Inform you that you are being arrested.
  3. Tell you what particular crime they believe you committed.
  4. Provide an explanation of why they feel it is necessary to arrest you.
  5. Explain to you that you are not free to leave.

Legal rights for young people and the law differ if the arrested person is under 18 years old. For example, the police should try to avoid arresting children at school unless it cannot be avoided. Even so, they would need to inform the headteacher.

After arriving at the police station the officer must contact your parents, a guardian, or a carer as soon as possible.

Police Powers Reasonable Force

What will happen if you try to escape or you become violent during an arrest? In this case, the powers of the police allow them to use ‘reasonable force’.

So, holding you down on the ground so you cannot run off would be a typical example. They can also put you in handcuffs to further restrain you.

Note: The police powers search and search when you get arrested are covered in another section. Some of the rules on being arrested and your rights differ in Scotland.

Complaining about Police Treatment

Few people feel comfortable and relaxed when they deal with a police encounter. What should you do if you are unhappy with the way the police treated you? You should first contact the police force you want to complain about at their station.

UK police forces have a legal duty to refer certain types of complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Being Arrested Your Rights in United Kingdom