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What happens (or should happen) at a police interview

The prospect of a police interview can be extremely worrying – all the more so if you don’t know what to expect. A basic understanding of what happens at a police interview can help you stay calm and avoid unnecessary distress if you are expected to attend one.

However, it’s also important to recognise that police interviews don’t always meet the expected standards. That is to say, what happens at a police interview isn’t always what should happen. In these cases, you may encounter police misconduct, which represents a failure of the police to meet the requirements imposed upon them.

Knowing how a police interview should be conducted is vital, because it will help you ensure you are treated properly. It will also mean that, if you are not, you are immediately aware of this.

Police misconduct is a serious issue, and victims can be entitled to compensation. At the end of this post, we’ll discuss how you can pursue a civil action against the police if you have been mistreated during your attendance at a police interview.

What is a police interview?

To begin, we should stress that a police interview is a serious matter. In most cases, the police will be interviewing you because they suspect you have been involved in a criminal offence. For this reason, any decisions you make with regard to an interview should be taken with care – and ideally with professional legal advice.

However, we do need to distinguish between two main forms that a police interview can take. A voluntary police interview refers to a situation where the police have asked you to attend an interview, but you have not been placed under arrest. As the name implies, you do not have to attend a voluntary police interview. Further, if you do attend, you are free to leave at any point – and you must be informed of this by the interviewing officer. Nevertheless, not attending can have serious consequences, and it is not a decision to take lightly.

On the other hand, if you are arrested and then interviewed, you will not be free to leave. In this case you will usually be required to have your photograph taken as well as your fingerprints. Your consent is not required for this.

Nevertheless, there are a number of similarities between these two ways of being interviewed by the police. To reiterate the above, in both cases the interview is a serious matter, and some suspicion of a criminal offence is almost certainly involved.

Further, in both cases you have clearly defined rights that the police must not breach.

The police caution

Whether you are being interviewed voluntarily or have been placed under arrest, in both cases you must be read the following statement:

“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.”

This is known as the police caution, and it is important that you give it serious consideration.

Firstly, this caution stresses that you do not have to say anything in the interview. This is also known as the right to silence. And this should be understood literally: you are permitted to remain silent throughout the entire interview.

Nevertheless, as the second part indicates, this is not necessarily the best approach. If you are ultimately taken to court for the offence(s) in question, it can be problematic if you then provide explanations that you did not offer when you were interviewed. This can cast doubt on the truthfulness or validity of the information you are offering.

Finally, however, it is important to bear in mind that anything you do say can be used as evidence in a court case. We stress this because you may find that the officers interviewing you take an informal tone, and they may ask seemingly broad and unrelated questions. As the caution stresses, anything you say may be given in evidence. They may have reasons for asking certain questions that are not immediately apparent to you.

This may cause you to feel even more nervous at the prospect of a police interview. While this isn’t our intention, it’s important that you are aware of the significance of the situation you are in. This is yet another reason why having legal support is essential.

Your rights

In this section, we’ll talk through the rights you have when you are being interviewed by the police. Some of these apply whether you are under arrest or not. However, we’ll focus on being interviewed while under arrest. If you are looking for information specifically about a voluntary police interview, you can consult our blog on the topic here.

When being arrested

If you have been arrested, there are certain rights that you should be aware of outside of the specific context of the interview.

When you are arrested, the police must:

  • Identify themselves as the police
  • State clearly that you are being arrested
  • Tell you the crime they suspect you of committing
  • Explain the necessity for arresting you
  • Explain that you are not free to leave

If they fail to inform you of the reason for your arrest, then the arrest may be unlawful.

Following your arrest

Once you have been arrested, you will usually be taken to a police station and placed in a cell until you are interviewed.

At the station, the custody officer must explain your rights to you. You have the right to:

  • Free legal advice
  • Tell someone where you are
  • Get medical attention if you are unwell
  • See the Codes of Practice
  • See a written notice informing you of your rights

In certain extreme cases, your right to contact someone to inform them you’ve been arrested may be delayed. This would be the case if the police have reason to believe this may interfere with their investigation.

The Codes of Practice are documents setting out what the police can and cannot do. Every police station must have copies available for you to consult. These will help you to ensure that you are fully aware of what you can expect from the police.

Again, if you experience any breach of these rights – or of the other requirements outlined in the Codes of Practice – this may constitute police misconduct. Read on below to find out more about pursuing a civil action against the police if you have been a victim of police misconduct.

In the following section, we’ll try to give you a clear sense of what happens during a police interview, so that you can have a better understanding of what to expect.

What happens at a police interview?

Now you are aware of what you can expect leading up to the interview, let’s consider the interview itself. In looking more closely at what happens during a police interview, we can help you see when your treatment is not appropriate.

Firstly, it’s important to stress that you can have legal representation with you during the interview. And, as we’ve indicated above, this is an extremely good idea. If you do not have paid legal representation, you are entitled to get free legal advice from the duty solicitor.

Secondly, if you are under 18 or in any way vulnerable – if you have a mental health condition, for example – you are entitled to have an “appropriate adult” present during the interview. An appropriate adult can help support and advise you during the interview process, as well as helping to ensure the police officers interviewing you are behaving correctly. Your appropriate adult can be a parent or family member, a friend or carer, or a voluntary or paid specialist.

In the interview itself, you will be asked questions related to a specific offence or offences that the police suspect you of being involved in. However, they may also ask you broader questions related to, for example, your personal life, your work, or your relationships.

Again, you do not have to answer any questions, nor do you have to speak at all if you choose not to. The police will continue asking questions even if you choose to remain silent, in order to give you the opportunity to answer the questions they have and ensure they have fully pursued their investigation. As we’ve indicated above, however, remaining silent may have significant consequences.

What should I do if I am not treated appropriately?

Now that you know what happens during a police interview – or rather, what should happen – you will be better placed to see when your treatment is not appropriate. Unfortunately, the police do not always meet the standards expected of them – as set out, for instance, in the Codes of Practice mentioned above. It’s important that you are able to not only identify when this has happened, but that you also know what you can do about it. After all, it’s vital that police misconduct is not tolerated, and that those responsible are held to account.

If, for whatever reason, you feel that your treatment has not been appropriate, whether during your police interview or more generally, you can make a complaint to the police force responsible.

Most police forces have dedicated pages on their websites for submitting a complaint. If you are struggling to find the relevant page, you can consult the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) website. This website not only provides some helpful advice on making a complaint, and details of the outcomes you can expect, but also offers links to the complaints page for each police force.

As we have discussed elsewhere, there are a range of outcomes you can expect from making a complaint. The outcome will of course depend on the severity of the incident – for instance, if it amounted to gross police misconduct. However, whatever the outcome, you are unlikely to receive any compensation as a result of your complaint. In order to receive compensation, you will need to pursue a civil action against the police.

HNK can help with your civil action against the police

If you are treated inappropriately during a police interview, this can have a significant negative impact on your life. Whether you are physically injured by the incident, or it leads to emotional distress of some kind, the consequences of police misconduct can be severe and even life changing.

For this reason, it is important you consider pursuing a civil action against the police in such circumstances. While compensation cannot undo the damage the incident has caused, nor can it erase the experience, it can still help you to move on from what has happened.

If you are considering seeking compensation through a civil action against the police, it’s vital that you consult solicitors with experience in such matters. Here at HNK, we have helped many clients successfully claim damages as a result of police misconduct. This includes cases where mistreatment occurred in the context of a police interview. In 2019, for example, we were able to help a client secure £14,000 in damages from Essex Police after they were assaulted and falsely imprisoned following a voluntary interview.

We offer free consultations, so if you have been a victim of police misconduct and are considering a compensation claim, get in touch today. We can discuss the specifics of your case and help you decide if your claim has a chance of success. If we think it does, we can offer to take it up on a no-win, no-fee basis. With our expert knowledge of the legal context around police misconduct, we can ensure your case is presented in the strongest possible terms.

Simply fill out the form on our website to request a call back. Alternatively, call us on 0151 203 1104 or email us at enquiries@hnksolicitors.com.

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