You and the police
In an emergency call 999. For non-emergencies call 101.
The police are there to uphold the law fairly and firmly, and we all have a duty to assist them in doing so. You have certain rights in any dealings with the police, which it is useful to know.
- Be polite at all times. It will make life a lot easier
- If you don’t understand what is going on, the questions you are being asked, or terms they are using, ask.
- If you are accused of an offence, always ask to speak to a solicitor before you make a statement. The law is complicated!
Out on the street
Stopped for questioning – in a public place the police can ask you to account for yourself – i.e. your actions, behaviour, what you are carrying or why you are there. You don’t have to answer but they can infer from this and e.g. search you or make further enquiries. Unless it is impractical to do so, they should make a record of the encounter and give you a copy. If you are under 18 they may also inform your parents or make a referral to an appropriate agency if they are concerned about you.
Giving your name and address – generally the police don’t have the right to demand your name and address apart from in certain circumstances. For example if they have reason to believe you are or were acting in an antisocial manner. If you then refuse to tell them, you are committing an offence and could be arrested, and they could go on to search you. You can still answer their questions of course even if you don’t think you have been doing anything wrong.
Stop and search – you can be stopped at any time or place by the police but they must have reasonable grounds for believing you have acted or intend to act unlawfully, for instance carrying an offensive weapon with intent to use it. They cannot stop you in order to find a reason to stop you – they have to have grounds first. They may search for stolen goods, illegal drugs, burglary tools, an offensive weapon or e.g. spray cans. The police have the power to seize anything they have the power to search you for. If they are not in uniform, they can still search you, but must show you their warrant card first.
If the police search you it must be in a public place. You’ll be asked to turn out your pockets and show the contents of your bag. If they ask you to take off your outer clothing you should do so, but you only have to remove your coat, jacket and gloves. If they want you to remove anything further, or anything you wear for religious reasons they must take you somewhere out of public view.
If you are being searched, there is certain information the police must give you. For example what they are searching you for, the identity of the officer, the station to which they are attached, and why they are searching you. If they do not tell you, ask. After the search, they will complete an ‘encounter form’ (unless this is completely impractical), and give a copy to you.
Being arrested -If the police have reasonable suspicion that you have committed an offence or intend to do so you can be arrested, with or without a warrant. They must tell you that you are being arrested, and why. They are allowed to use reasonable force to do so.
PCSO’s (Community Support Officers) – have the power to confiscate tobacco and alcohol, where appropriate, and demand your name and address if you are acting in an anti-social manner. They have the power to detain you for up to 30 minutes while waiting for a police officer but not to search you.
At the police station
However, if they think that you are at risk because of your age (if under 18) you can be taken to a place of safety – for example police station.
If you are in a public place and the police are concerned that you are a danger to yourself or others because of mental ill-health, you can be detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, and taken to a place of safety to be assessed by a doctor.
Questioning – is for the police to get information and to see if you are telling the truth. All interviews are recorded onto CD so evidence can’t be changed. For some offences you may not be interviewed. If you’re not sure what is going on, don’t answer any questions, admit anything or sign anything, until you have talked to a solicitor.
If you have a defence to the charge against you, it is usually a good idea to tell the police. If you remain silent during your interview but have an explanation when you go to court the judge may decide not to believe you because you didn’t tell your story from the beginning. This can be complicated and one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to ask for a solicitor from the beginning.
Solicitors – you have the right to see a solicitor. If you can’t afford one or don’t have one, you have the right to a free solicitor under the Duty Solicitor Scheme. You can change your mind at any time.
In custody – while in custody you are entitled to let someone know know your whereabouts, food and exercise, a warm clean cell with bedding, periods of rest, and access to a doctor if you need one. You can ask to see a written copy of your rights. You can be kept in custody for further questioning for up to 24 hours. This can be extended to 36 hours (or even 72) but only with good reason. After this they must either charge or release you.
If you are under 18– there must be an ‘appropriate adult’ present while you are being questioned. e.g. a parent, carer, friend, youth worker or social worker. This can also apply if you are vulnerable because of e.g. a learning disability.
DNA samples are pretty routine now. Ask what will happen to it and how long details will be kept, as the law keeps changing on this.
Non-intimate samples: Fingerprints, mouth swabs, saliva, hair, footwear impressions and photos can all be taken without consent.
Intimate samples: Blood, urine, semen, dental impressions and pubic hair can also be requested. They must ask for your written consent, but refusing to provide these samples can harm your defence.
Body searches: must be done by someone of the same sex as you, with a mimimum of two people present. If you are under 18 your appropriate adult (see above) should also be present, unless you request otherwise.
If you think that the police have denied you your rights by not treating you properly, or if you have been racially or sexually harassed, then you can make a complaint. Go through a solicitor or CAB. You may also be able to claim compensation.
What happens next?
If the police decide to take things further, you do not necessarily have to go to court. A lot depends on your age, particularly if you are under 18 or you are vulnerable in some way – for example because you have a learning difficulty.
Instead of going to court you could be asked to agree to a penalty notice, Community Restorative Disposal, conditional caution etc. – but you have to admit the offence. If you are under 18 you may have to be referred to the Youth Offending Team. Honesty is the best policy, but you may still need time to find out about a number of things, for example:
- who can I get advice and support from?
- what will go on my record, and for how long?
- what will happen next?
Even after something has happened it is worth getting advice. Call in at Castlegate, or make an appointment with a solicitor who deals with criminal matters. Go to lawsociety.org.uk and click on ‘find a solicitor’ then choose ‘crime’ under legal issues to find a criminal law solicitor locally.
For more information about the criminal system and youth justice system look at www.gov.uk.
If you have to go to court
You should make sure you have spoken to a solicitor before being called. This could be the duty solicitor or a solicitor that you have asked to represent you. Going to court can be confusing. You may not understand what is going on even when people are being helpful and explaining things. If you don’t understand, always ask, until you are clear about what is happening and what will happen next.
You will have to give an address that the court can release you to, although if it is a more serious case you may be remanded in custody.
If you are under 18 you will be dealt with by the Youth Court. If you are over 18 you will be dealt with by the Magistrates Court. Whatever your age, if it is a very serious offence it will go to the Crown Court. If you are found guilty, the court has a number of different sentences it can choose from, apart from a custodial sentence (i.e. prison or young offender institution). For example you may have to:
- make amends to the victim
- do unpaid community work
- stay in frequent touch with a supervising officer
- attend special group work sessions
If you fail to do what is required of you, you will have to go back to court and can get sentenced again for the original offences.
Applying for jobs with a criminal record
Every conviction has a ‘rehabilitation period’ attached. During this time, even though your conviction has finished, you still have to tell an employer about it if they ask you. The length of time your conviction remains ‘unspent’ depends on the sentence and your age at the time of sentencing. For most jobs you only need to disclose ‘unspent’ convictions, if asked. However for some jobs (e.g. carer, security staff, taxi driver) you have to disclose all convictions – spent and unspent.
For information about how long different convictions remain on your record and how best to tell employers, go to bitc.org.uk – ( to find leaflet download ‘telling an employer about your criminal record’). It also has advice about how to get a copy of the information that police hold about you. You can also search on nacro.org.uk for ‘Rehabilitation of Offenders Act’.