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Your Legal Rights on Arrest

If you are arrested it is very important to be careful how you act and what you say. Anything you say to a Police Officer can be used to incriminate you and build a stronger case against you.

This page tells you what your rights are when arrested.

Police officers often make mistakes with procedure and this can be used to help with your defence in some circumstances.

When can the Police arrest you?

In some situation the Police can arrest you because they have an arrest warrant. At other times they can arrest you without one, such as:

  • you are about to commit an offence
  • you are in the act of committing an offence
  • they have reasonable grounds for suspecting you are committing certain offences
  • they have reasonable grounds for suspecting you have committed certain offences
  • they have reasonable grounds for suspecting you are about to commit certain offences

The police can only arrest if the necessity test is also met.

If you are arrested because you have failed to give them a satisfactory address they must first explain that you may be arrested and give you the opportunity to give them the correct address.

The arrest process

  • The police are only allowed to use “reasonable” force to make an arrest and they should inform you that you are under arrest as soon as possible.
  • Once arrested the police must explain why they have arrested you.
  • The police must caution you unless it is impractical to do so or unless they cautioned you immediately before they arrested you.
  • If you are arrested somewhere other than at a police station, they should take you to a police station as soon as possible.
  • If they arrest you for theft and you were seen taking property but did not have it after a chase, the police officer can retrace your tracks. This may allow them to recover the property. They should take you to the station once they have recovered the property.

Legal advice

  • If you are arrested you should ask for a Solicitor at the earliest opportunity. You have a right to legal representation.
  • Advice at a Police Station is free of charge and can be paid for by Legal Aid. This does not depend on your financial circumstances.
  • Once you have asked for legal advice, the police must not normally question you.
  • You don't have to answer any questions until you have spoken to a solicitor.
  • I strongly advise you not to answer any questions until your solicitor is present.
  • If you said you didn’t want legal advice, you can change your mind at any time.

At the Police Station

At the police station the custody officer must tell you why you’re being held and explain what your rights are. Your rights are to:

  • have medical help if you’re feeling ill
  • get free legal advice - for example, from a solicitor
  • arrange for someone you know to be told where you are
  • see the rules the police must follow - these are called ‘Codes of Practice’
  • see a written notice telling you about your rights - for example, to get regular breaks for food, washing and to use the toilet

Right to silence

Although you have a right to silence, courts can take your silence into account when deciding whether you are guilty or innocent.
Speak to your solicitor before making any statement to the police.

Physical evidence

If you are arrested, the police have the power to take your fingerprints, photographs and a DNA sample (via mouth swab) without your consent. Other types of sample, called ‘intimate samples’ (blood and urine) can only be taken either with your permission or on the authority of a senior police officer.

Young people

If you are under 17 and are detained by the police, an appropriate adult (usually your parent or guardian) should be informed as soon as possible.

The police should not interview you until your parent is present, unless a delay would mean an immediate risk of harm to someone or serious loss of or damage to property.

You are also entitled to a Solicitor in addition to this.

The interview

Your police station interview will most likely be recorded by the police. It is critical that you have a solicitor present for the interview.

If the interview is not being recorded, notes should be made by the police officer. You should have the opportunity to see these notes and to sign them if you agree they are a fair record of what was said.

Being charged

When you are charged with an offence you should be given a charge sheet, containing details of the offence of which you are charged, when and where you are due to appear in court and the conditions of your bail.

Bail

If you are charged with an offence the law states that you should usually be released on bail. In some cases the police or court could refuse bail. These circumstances are:

  • fear that witnesses or evidence would be interfered with
  • fear that you would not attend court
  • fear that you would commit further offences
  • fear for your own protection

If the police do not release you on bail you must be taken before a magistrate at the earliest opportunity. The magistrate will decide whether you should be released on bail. In some cases, bail conditions may be applied. 

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