Police Powers and Rights of Suspects


If the police have a warrant to arrest someone they have a duty to arrest them. If you hear that there is a warrant for your arrest, the process (being arrested charged etc.) is likely to be easier if you arrange through a solicitor to give yourself up than if you wait for the police to find you. If you go “on the run” and the police do eventually catch up, it may be difficult to obtain bail.

The police may arrest a person without warrant if: he/she is in the act of committing an offence, or if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that he/she is committing or has committed or is about to commit certain offences. These offences are generally more serious (but note that they can include theft of quite small amounts). They can also arrest a person whom they have reasonable grounds for suspecting of committing an offence (however minor) and they do not know and cannot get his/her name; they believe that he/she has given a false name; he/she has given an unsatisfactory or false address; the arrest is necessary to prevent injury, damage to property, offences against public decency or an obstruction of the highway or for the protection of a child or vulnerable person.

The police may use “reasonable” force in order to effect an arrest.

Once you are arrested the police will take you to a police station.

The police have power to take your fingerprints, photo and a DNA sample while you are in the police station.

An arrested person generally has the right to have someone told of the arrest and the right to legal advice.

The legal advice available in the police station is free and is either on the telephone or, in more serious cases, attendance of a legal representative in the police station. You have the right to choose your own solicitor and this will be free if the solicitor does legal aid work.

If any medical issues arise while you are in police custody – for instance if you need special medication or if you are injured in some way – it is normally better to draw this to the attention of the police. You may need to take medication before your release or, if the injury is relevant to your case, it may need to be on record.

The police should charge you with an offence once they have sufficient evidence. They should release you as soon as it is clear that they will not be charging you. Generally the police can detain you for up to 24 hours (or 96 hours with the permission of magistrates). At the end of that period they must charge you, release you unconditionally or release you on bail (which means that you must come back to the police station on a later date when the results of further investigation will be known).

In the police station you have the right to keep silent. Note that, if you don’t answer questions, your silence can be taken into account in deciding whether you are guilty during your trial. This (deciding whether to answer questions or not) is the matter on which you are most likely to need legal advice.

There are extra requirements that the police must follow if an arrested person is under 17 or has learning difficulties, or is from abroad or if he/she cannot communicate.

If you want to help someone who is arrested (e.g. if you are a witness and you don’t know him/her) you should consider telling him/her your name and address or phone number so that he/she can contact you later. If there are other witnesses present try to get their contact details. Make a note of exactly what happened as soon as you can.

Be careful. If the police think that you are obstructing them at the time of an arrest you may be arrested yourself and charged with obstructing or even assaulting a police officer in the execution of duty. So, though there is a right to try to stop a wrongful arrest, there is a very high risk that, by doing so, you will only make things worse. If someone has been wrongfully detained by the police he/she has rights to make complaints afterwards.

If a friend or relative is detained in the police station it can be useful for you to go to there – bring them a change of clothes, food etc. Ask if you can see him/her (the police do not have to grant such a request). It helps him/her to know that someone cares. The police are likely to take more care if they know that others are interested.

Once the arrested person is charged the police will decide whether they wish to release him/her on bail. If they do so, he/she will be given a date to go to court. If the police decide not to release him/her on bail, they will take him/her to the next session of the local magistrates court. The court may, if asked, grant bail.