Why is it important to have representation at the Police Station?

By Chris Bailey

Arrest and detention at a police station is usually the first step in criminal proceedings. On first arrival at the police station, the suspect will be booked into custody by the custody sergeant. During this booking in procedure the suspect will be informed that they have certain rights whilst at the police station which are:-

  • To have someone informed that they are being detained at the police station;
  • To consult the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Codes of Practice; and
  • To consult with a solicitor free of charge.

It is the last right which is the most important in terms of protecting the suspect's rights whilst at the police station. All too often suspects do not exercise their right to consult with a solicitor. There are varying reasons for this for example, the may feel that they have done nothing wrong and therefore they do not need a solicitor. They may also be informed by the police that it will take hours to arrange for a solicitor to attend and will be placed into a cell whilst those arrangements are being made. Suspects, for obvious reasons, do not want to be in detention for any longer than is necessary and in the face of being placed in a cell for some considerable time, they decline their right to legal representation.

It is standard procedure that suspects will be interviewed by the police regarding an alleged offence. It is in interview that most unrepresented suspects' fall into difficulty. At the start of every interview the suspect will be cautioned. The caution is:-

"You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned, something that you later rely on in court, anything you do say may be used in evidence."

It is very important that the suspect understands the caution. It can be conveniently broken down into three parts. The first part is that the suspect does not have to say anything. It is the suspects right to remain silent during the course of a police interview. Some suspects answer questions by stating that they have no comment to make. The right to silence is a legal right which cannot be overridden by the police.

However, there are risks with going "no comment" during a police interview and those risks are highlighted by the next part of the caution which states that it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something you later rely on in Court. In other words if the suspect has a defence and they do not mention it when questioned by the police then, if the matter goes to Court and they state their defence, the Court can draw what is known as an adverse inference from the fact that the suspect is now mentioning a defence which could have reasonably been mentioned during the suspects interview. In other words, the Court can imply that the suspect is lying. Similarly, if the suspect answers questions and then gives a different account at Court to that he gave at the police station then the Court can imply that the suspect is lying.

Finally, the caution states that anything you do say might be used in evidence. The interview will be taped recorded onto three tapes. The first tape is the master tape. It has a yellow seal placed around it at the end of the interview. That seal can only be broken by order of the Court or with the suspects' agreement and in the presence of their solicitor. This is an important safe-guard for the suspect. It means that the tape cannot be tampered with and is a true record of what was said during the interview. The second tape is the police working copy and the last tape is the suspects copy.

Usually, the master tape is not played in Court. The police prepare a record of taped interview which, if the suspect agrees, can be read out in Court. It is only in the case of disagreement is the tape actually played. The point is that anything the suspect states during the course of the interview can be used in evidence (usually against the suspect).

In conclusion, what or what is not said during the course of the police interview could have a very serious impact on any subsequent criminal proceedings in Court. Police station interviews can be somewhat of a "minefield" for suspects and that is why it is always important to be represented. Advice at the police station is free and independent and should be taken up even if the suspect feels that they have not done anything wrong and by the way, don't be fooled by police officers saying that it will take hours for a solicitor to attend. In most cases we can be at the police station promptly and in any event, within 45 minutes.

So if you or a relative of yours has been arrested and are being detained at the police then call us at any time, day or night, we will attend the police station and protect your or your relatives interests.