How are my rights protected in custody?

How is a suspect protected in the police station?

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), contains certain provisions that protect suspects held in a police station for interview. These safeguards were put in place to reduce the number of miscarriages of justice.

The caution

Any person suspected of being involved in criminal activity must be cautioned before being asked any questions concerning their involvement or suspected involvement in the offence in question.

The caution is as follows: 

‘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’.

Audio recording

Under s 60 of PACE, an interview in a police station must be recorded. This measure was introduced to safeguard a potential suspect from being threatened into saying something false, from being forced into a false confession, or confessions being made up by the police.

The right to inform someone of your detention

Section 56 of PACE provides that once a suspect is taken to a police station, they are entitled to let someone know of their detention. This could a relative or friend. The person chosen by the detainee to be informed of their arrest must be told that the detainee has been arrested and where they are being held.

This right may be suspended if the suspect has been arrested in connection with an indictable offence and informing an outside person may lead to interference with evidence relating to the offence, other suspects being informed of the arrest causing them to flee, interference with recovering evidence and / or causing injury or interference to witnesses.

The right to consult a solicitor

Under s 58 of PACE, a person held in custody – apart from those arrested or detained under the terrorism provisions – has the legal right to consult a solicitor free of charge and in private.
The right to seek a legal advisor may be suspended for up to 36 hours under the same circumstances as the right to inform an outside person of your detention.

An appropriate adult present at the police station

All young people under 18 and vulnerable adults (eg, those suffering a mental disorder or disability) must have an appropriate adult present with them during a police interview. An appropriate adult may include a parent or guardian, another family member, a volunteer aged 18 or over, or a social worker.

The treatment of suspects in police detention

The police code states that a police interviewing room must be appropriately lit, be well ventilated and heated during an interview. The suspect being interviewed must be able to sit down during the interview and there must be regular breaks scheduled during the interview for refreshments. The detainee must also be allowed to go to the toilet, given adequate time for sleep and given medical attention if required. Suspects must be given a written notice telling them about their rights or an interpreter to explain the notice if required.

The recording of the interview

Once an interview has been conducted, the police officer must make a copy of the recording of the interview. This recording will be kept on file for the protection of the police and the suspect.

How long can a suspect be held?

The police can hold a suspect for up to 24 hours before they have to charge them with a crime or release them. They can apply to hold a suspect for up to 36 or 96 hours if they’re suspected of a serious crime, eg murder, or for up to 14 days If they’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.

The ability to refuse evidence

Under PACE, the courts have the ability to refuse to hear evidence that has been obtained in an inappropriate manner.

Section 76(2) of PACE states that the prosecution must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a confession was not obtained in an inappropriate way. An inappropriate way would include torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or duress.

Section 78 of PACE allows the courts to refuse to include evidence that they believe will have the reverse effect of fairness on the hearing itself, and should therefore not be heard.
These sections were introduced to allow the courts to dismiss evidence which has been obtained through a breach of PACE or Codes.

About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

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