Police station questioning
When a person is questioned at a police station about a criminal offence - whether they have been arrested or are 'helping the police with enquiries' as a volunteer - it can be one of the most frightening and distressing experiences they are likely to have. It does not matter whether the investigation appears to be for a trivial or a serious matter.
When under stress, people make mistakes. This is all too often the case when being questioned by the police in a formal investigation. Something said can be misinterpreted, not said clearly enough, be ambiguous or only half the explanation. Sometimes what is said can be completely wrong but not said dishonestly. The problems created at this critical stage of any criminal case can often be very damaging much later on at any trial. What may have been said mistakenly in a moment of stress and confusion will simply look like a lie or an inconsistent account in the calm of a court room.
Anyone questioned at the police station has a number of rights and protections. Vulnerable or young people can be supported by another person known as an appropriate adult. This might be a carer, friend or parent. Their role is to ensure understanding and protect the welfare needs of the suspect being questioned.
Any interview at the police station will result in a record of what is said and done being made. Interviews are recorded. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 describes an interview as the questioning of a suspect as to their involvement or suspected involvement in an offence. The purpose of the interview will be to gather evidence by way of questioning and the answers made to those questions can be used as “evidence” as part of the case against the individual. The evidence might be a confession or it might be something said that is used to show to a court that what had been said proved to be false and referred to in court.
Whatever the allegation or the reason for being questioned, whatever the case - serious or minor, this stage of any criminal case is likely to be the most important. Every individual generally has the right to consult with a solicitor or a Police Station Accredited Adviser before they are formally questioned.
The job of the lawyer is to gather as much information about the investigation as is possible. This will allow for a discussion to take place in private between the lawyer and the client about what is being alleged and what the relevant legal issues may be. This assistance is as important as the formal interview as it will allow the client to gather their thoughts and not be taken by surprise when questioned. The lawyer will advise on the options available. Sometimes the advice might be to make 'no comment' to the questions. Everyone has the right to say nothing when questioned by the police. However, this option has to be considered carefully as the law allows a court to take into account a failure to answer questions and it may ultimately be used against the individual in any subsequent trial. These decisions involve consideration of complex legal and tactical issues that requires the assistance of a properly experienced and expert lawyer.
Our criminal defence solicitors have extensive experience in representing individuals at the police station, with a large team of lawyers exclusively dedicated to this work. It is also the case that the service is provided free of charge to the individual as the entitlement to free advice and assistance at the police station is provided through our contracts with the Legal Aid Agency. This covers both attendance for interview but also other stages in the investigation process including assistance in identification procedures and advice on the administration of cautions.
If you are contacted by the police and asked to attend the police station to be questioned, call our police station solicitors so that we can assist you throughout the process on 0203 816 1098.
Police station legal advice FAQs
How long does it take the police to investigate a crime?
It is a common question asked but unfortunately there is no definitive answer. There are a number of variables that will affect the length of time the police will take to investigate an offence. These can include the nature and complexity of the offence under investigation, the age and vulnerability of the parties involved and the resources and priorities of the police.
Before the police can question an individual under suspicion of a criminal offence, the police must have reasonable grounds to suspect that person is involved. If that criteria is met, then depending on the nature of the allegation and the suspect, the police can if necessary, arrest that person to conduct an interview under caution. Or, if the criteria is not met can arrange a voluntary interview at a specific date and time.
What happens after the police interview?
Again, this will be decided by the individual case under investigation. For example, a straight forward allegation of shoplifting, caught on CCTV and admitted in the police interview, the police will make a decision to charge straight away. If there is no evidence in the case and no realistic prospect of a conviction, the police may decide to result the matter with no further action.
In more serious or complex cases, either the police will be required to make further investigations into the crime and/or seek guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service. In these circumstance, if the investigation cannot be concluded straight away, then the suspect will either be released under investigation or police bailed with or without conditions. Initially, the police can only bail a suspect for a period of 28 days, but if certain criteria are met, this can be extended by a senior officer and then further by the courts.
What investigations will the police undertake?
Again, this will vary depending on the nature and complexity of the case. In some cases, further witness statements or video interviews will need to be taken. In others, CCTV evidence will need to be obtained. It may be that mobile phone or computers need to be examined, forensic evidence (DNA or fingerprints for example) obtained or suspected drugs analysed.
Is there a time limit before I can be charged?
Only for some offences. Generally speaking, only the least serious offences have time limits attached to them. However, there are no time limits for what are called “either way” or “indictable only” offences. It has become relatively common for allegations of serious sexual offences to be made and prosecuted decades after the offences are said to have been committed.
Summary only matters are the less serious cases that include minor assaults and motoring offences. These cases can only be tried before a Magistrates Court and subject to a number of statutory exceptions the charge/ information must be laid before the Court within 6 months of the commission of the offence.
If you are being investigated for or have been charged with a criminal offence, it is extremely important that you seek specialist advice from a criminal defence solicitor to discuss your options. Should you require our assistance please do seek advice from our specialist team of criminal defence solicitors on 0203 816 1098.