If you have been asked to attend a voluntary police interview, you may understandably feel anxious and worried. You may be concerned about where it will lead, and if you are facing criminal charges. Though you may have some idea of what they want to speak with you about, on the other hand, you may be completely in the dark. It is likely that you’ll have a range of questions running through your mind – not least, “do I have to attend a voluntary police interview?”
In this post, we’ll try to answer some of the most pressing questions you may have about voluntary police interviews. We’ll discuss the rights you have in this situation and give you some clarity about what the police can and cannot do during a voluntary interview. Knowing this will help you to make sure you are treated appropriately and that you are able to respond in the best possible way to this stressful situation.
It will also help you be wary of any possible police misconduct. It is important that you are aware of your rights and of the limits on police powers. If you are not treated appropriately, you may be entitled to claim compensation through a civil action against the police.
Do you have to attend a voluntary police interview?
Let’s begin with the most pressing question – and one that, thankfully, is simple to answer. As the name suggests, you do not need to attend a voluntary police interview. Your attendance is completely optional, and it is up to you to decide whether or not to take part.
We would encourage cooperation with the police as your lack of cooperation could lead to an arrest.
If you do attend, you are free to leave at any time unless you are placed under arrest. If you are being placed under arrest, this must be stated clearly and the reason for it must be explained as soon as practicable.
Though you can choose whether to attend, we must stress that a voluntary police interview is a serious matter. In most cases, you are being asked to attend such an interview because the police suspect you have committed a criminal offence.
Before deciding if you are going to attend or not, you should think seriously about the implications of your choice. It is always a good idea to seek legal advice in this situation – particularly because, as we’ll explain below, you are allowed to have a solicitor present at your interview.
Let’s look more closely at the process of attending a voluntary police interview so that you are fully aware of what is involved. This will help you to make an informed decision about the steps to take.
The seriousness of a voluntary police interview
A voluntary police interview, otherwise known as an “interview under caution”, is an increasingly common tool used by the police during criminal investigations. As we’ve explained elsewhere on our blog, there are strict conditions that must be met before the police can arrest someone. Not uncommonly, the police believe someone may have committed a crime but cannot justify arresting them as it is not strictly necessary to do so. Thus, they will invite the suspect to attend a voluntary interview.
The “caution” in question is the warning that the police must give you before the interview commences: namely, that anything you say during the interview may be given in evidence. Further, if the matter does end up in court and you rely on information or explanations that you did not provide during the interview, this may be taken as a reason to doubt what you are saying.
As you can see from this, a voluntary police interview is a serious matter. Though you are not under arrest, the interview will nonetheless be recorded. It is important to think carefully about what you do or do not want to say.
As frightening as this may all be, you do have a number of rights that you can avail yourself of, and which entitle you to certain kinds of support during the interview. Further, there are strict limits on what the police can do during a voluntary interview. Any failure of the officers conducting the interview to adhere to these limits may constitute police misconduct.
Your rights during a voluntary police interview
In the first instance, the police must inform you clearly about the purpose of the interview. This means that they must tell you about the offence they think you have committed and their reasons for this suspicion, as well as explaining why they think the interview is necessary. They must also explain the “caution” we have discussed above. Additionally, they must provide their names and ranks, and inform you that you can choose to terminate the interview at any time.
This last point is especially important. It must be made clear that you are free to leave at any time unless the police decide to arrest you. Though you can be arrested following the interview, the arresting officer must explicitly state that this is happening and that, as a result, you are no longer free to leave. They must also state their justification for arresting you. A failure to do so may mean that the arrest is unlawful.
The interview itself must take place in a room that is clean, warm, and lit. You should not be expected to stand during the interview. Further, you should be given a break during normal mealtimes, as well as a break for a drink after around two hours.
If at any point you are unsure about your rights or about the rules the police must follow, you can ask to consult the Codes of Practice. These are available at every police station and set out clearly what the police can and cannot do. The police must allow you to review these codes on request – and this includes before the interview begins.
Can I have someone with me during a voluntary police interview?
You do not have to attend your voluntary police interview alone. This may be reassuring if you are anxious about the prospect of the interview.
If you are under 18 or in any way vulnerable – for instance, if you have mental health problems – you have the right to have an “appropriate adult” with you during the entire interview. They can help you to understand what’s happening and defend your interests. Your “appropriate adult” must be present when your rights are explained and when the reason for the interview is given. They must also be present when you consent to the interview.
Further, anyone being interviewed under caution is entitled to be accompanied by a solicitor to the interview. You must be allowed to speak to your solicitor at any time during the interview – and you must be allowed to do so in private if you so choose. If you do not have paid legal representation, you can request free legal advice from the Duty Solicitor. This service is entirely independent of the police.
As we mentioned above, a voluntary police interview is a serious matter, and what you say during the interview can be used as evidence in future. It is important that you do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation, nor mistakenly think that, because the interview is voluntary, it is an “informal chat”.
By the same token, you should be extremely careful about what you choose to say – or to refrain from saying – during an interview. Of course, this is easier said than done. The situation of being interviewed is a stressful one, and you may not have easy answers to the questions you are asked.
Having experienced legal representation can be extremely helpful in this situation. It means you will not have to decide for yourself how to proceed, and it will reduce your risks of saying something ill-advised during your interview, even simply due to the stress you are under.
Police misconduct and actions against the police
As you can see from the above, though a voluntary police interview gives you a degree of freedom you do not have if placed under arrest – including the freedom not to attend or to leave midway through – it is still a matter to treat with care and caution. However, you are protected by a number of rights and entitlements, and the police have specific and defined limitations on what they can do during the situation.
Knowing your rights and what you can expect from the police is important because, unfortunately, not all voluntary police interviews will meet these expectations. In some cases, the behaviour of the officers interviewing you will fall short of what is required.
For instance, the officers interviewing you may fail to provide you with all the necessary information about the crime you are suspected of committing. They may fail to advise you that you can leave if you choose to do so or to make it clear that you are not under arrest. Further, if they do place you under arrest, they may not explain why they are doing so.
In any of these cases, the police will have failed to meet the standards expected of them and to adhere to the limitations placed on their powers. As a result, police misconduct has taken place.
HNK can help with your police misconduct claims
If you have attended a voluntary police interview and have experienced police misconduct, you may be entitled to claim compensation as part of a civil action against the police. The experience of being interviewed under caution is a stressful one, and any unnecessary distress caused by a failure on the part of the police to meet the expected standards should not be accepted.
If you think that your interactions with the police, including any interviews under caution, may have involved police misconduct, it is vital that you speak with solicitors with experience in pursuing actions against the police. They will be able to provide you with a clear understanding of your situation and of whether or not you may be entitled to compensation.
Here at HNK, our solicitors have extensive experience in seeking compensation for victims of police misconduct. In a recent case, we were able to secure £14,000 in damages for a client who was falsely imprisoned and subjected to assault and battery by the police.
We offer free consultations, so if you think you may have experienced police misconduct – whether during a voluntary interview or in any other circumstance – get in touch today. We can help to discuss the details of your situation and consider if you may have a claim. If we do think you are entitled to compensation, we can offer to take up the case on a no-win, no-fee basis. You can simply fill out the form on our website to request a callback. Alternatively, call us on 0151 203 1104 or email us at email@example.com.