Criminal acts either witnessed by, or reported to, the police will lead to an investigation by them. The investigation stage may range from the simple to the very complex. For example, a police officer on duty witnessing disorderly behaviour outside a bar would act on what they saw and the investigation would probably be a very short one. The evidence that would be relied upon in any court case would be the account given by the police officer.
Some cases may involve a simple matter though not witnessed by a police officer such as an act of theft from a shop or an assault in a home. A report may be made to the police, and as the investigation progressed, statements would be taken from the complainant and any witnesses. The suspect would be traced and most likely would be questioned. Again, a very simple situation.
Other criminal cases involve complex investigations which could go on for months or sometimes, years. The investigations can relate to forensic or scientific evidence, analysis of enormous amounts of information or computer data and obtaining the evidence of many witnesses both eye witnesses and experts.
A critical stage of any investigation is when the police decide it is time to bring in their suspect for questioning. Special procedures apply as to how such interviews are conducted with rules that govern police conduct and rights of suspects. Even simple cases may result in an interview.
The police have a power to arrest so long as certain statutory rules apply. These are covered in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. There may be many other occasions where the police may wish to question their suspect as part of the police investigation but a justification for an arrest may not apply. To achieve the objective of a formal police interview, many suspects may be asked to attend a police station as a “volunteer” to assist with enquiries. They may even try to “interview” them on the street or at the suspect’s home. When this happens, any questions put and answers given have the same importance of those when a person is under arrest and detained at a police station.
The right to legal advice
A suspect has the right to legal advice. This is a statutory right under PACE. This law recognises the importance of legal advice. It is there to protect a suspect. It does not matter whether the offence is minor or serious. It does not matter whether the suspect is a sophisticated or a vulnerable person. It is a level of protection afforded to them as regrettably experience showed before the introduction of the PACE that miscarriages of justice often started at the investigation stage.
The key role of a solicitor at the police station is to consider the case against their client and advise them before any formal interview takes place. An experienced solicitor will understand the legal issues and be able to make an assessment of the police case – both strengths and weaknesses. They will also be able to draw on their experience as to how an interview will influence a trial at court should the investigation turn into a prosecution. Of course, being a suspect does not automatically means that person is the offender. The interview may be an opportunity to ensure the investigation goes in the right direction, away from an innocent suspect. Advice may stop something being said that is either irrelevant or could be very damaging later on.
Few suspects have a full understanding as to how anything said to the police (even the smallest detail) could impact on the future. Regrettably, many people called in for questioning, either as a volunteer or having been arrested, take the view that they have done nothing wrong and having a solicitor may make them look guilty. That could not be further from the truth. It is worth reflecting on the fact that when a police officer faces questioning as a suspect, they rarely enter that interview room without a solicitor.
If you have been asked to attend an interview as a volunteer or are under investigation for an offence please do not hesitate to contact the office for confidential initial advice on 0175 321 6399 or complete our online enquiry form.