What to expect in Police Custody

If you are arrested by the police, you will usually be taken to a police station, held in custody and interviewed by the police. We know how confusing and scary this can be, both for those arrested and their loved ones.

The following guide is intended to offer a basic overview of what to expect when arrested, your rights following arrest, what happens in a police interview and the possible outcomes following a police interview.

For immediate experienced police station representation for any type of criminal charges, please call 07836 577 556 24/7, 365 days a year.

What happens when you are arrested?

When you arrive at the custody suite of a police station, you will normally:

  • Be booked in by the police custody officer on duty
  • Be searched and your possessions kept by the police custody officer, including your mobile phone
  • Have your photograph taken
  • Have your biometric data, including your fingerprints and DNA samples taken (DNA may be taken with a mouth swab or a head hair root)
  • Have swabs of the skin on your hands and arms taken
  • Have your belt and shoelaces taken before you are placed in a cell
  • Be placed into a cell to await interview

Understanding your rights when in police custody

When taken into police custody, you have the right to:

  • Free legal advice (either from the duty solicitor available or another legal representative of your choosing)
  • Refuse to answer any questions until your legal adviser is present
  • Receive legal advice promptly (except in exceptional circumstances, where a senior officer can authorise withholding legal advice for a maximum of 36 hours after arriving at the custody suite or 48 hours for suspected terrorism offences)
  • Change your mind at any time if you initially choose not to have a legal representative
  • Have someone notified at no cost to you that you have been arrested and are in custody (please note, you do not have the ‘right to a phone call’ under English law)
  • Have an appropriate adult (such as a parent, guardian or carer) present during searching and questioning if you are under 17 years old or are a vulnerable adult
  • Refuse to give a blood or urine sample (except in relation to drink and drug driving) or to have dental impressions taken

The dangers of talking to police ‘informally’

If you are contacted by police, whether over the phone or in person, for a ‘chat down the station’, you should be extremely careful. While you may be under the impression this is an informal chat to ‘get your side of the story’, it can be very easy to accidently incriminate yourself. In some cases, even things you say over the phone can later be used against you.

Our advice – never speak to the police without your lawyer present

Any communication you have with the police, whether over the phone, in person or in writing, should always be done only after you have taken advice from your lawyer and only in the presence of your lawyer.

Even if a police officer tells you that ‘you don’t need a lawyer’, that ‘you’re not a suspect’ or ‘waiting for a lawyer will just slow things down’, you should always insist on having your lawyer with you before saying anything.

How long can you be kept in custody at a police station?

The length of time you can be held in custody without being charged with a crime will depend on the type of offence you are suspected of having committing.

The time limits are:

  • 24 hours for most crimes
  • After 24 hours your further detention of up to 36 hours must be authorised by an officer of the rank of superintendent or above.
  • Detention without charge beyond 36 hours can only be authorised by a Magistrates’ Court in respect of serious crimes e.g. murder. You can not be kept longer than 96 hours.
  • For terrorism offences (under the Terrorism Act) you can be detained without charge initially for 48 hours, but this can be extended to up to 7 days with judicial authority and then a further extension of up to 21 days can be granted with further applications.

What happens during a police interview?

There are three main stages to the police interview process:

Disclosure – The police will provide information about the offence or offences you are suspected of committing to your legal representative without you present. Police can and usually will withhold information such as witness statements and other evidence at this stage.

Client-solicitor consultation – You and your legal representative will be able to speak alone in a private consultation room at the police station. This allows your lawyer to explain the allegations you are facing and gives you a chance to respond to those allegations.

Our advice - comment or no comment
The advice we give at the Police Station is confidential and should not be discussed with the Police or any third party. Upon analysis of the disclosure given, our experienced representative will advise you accordingly whether you should:

  1. Answer ‘No comment’ to questions.
  2. Answer Police questions.
  3. Serve a prepared statement outlining your defence.

Your representative will advise the best option for you in the circumstance based on the case.

The interview – You will be asked questions by one or two police officers in a recorded interview in the presence of your lawyer.

Before your interview, you should be cautioned with the following words:

“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.”

What are the possible outcomes following a police interview?

Following police interview, there are four basic outcomes that could occur:

Released with no further action

This means the police accept that you have not committed a criminal offence or at least that there is no realistic prospect of them proving that you committed an offence.

Released under investigation

This means the police still suspect you may have committed a criminal offence, but they do not currently have enough evidence to charge you.

You will be released, but may be called back to a police station or custody suite at a later point for further questioning.

Released on bail pending further enquiries

This is the same as being released under investigation, except that you will be placed on ‘pre-charge bail’, meaning conditions can be placed on your release e.g. that you must stick to a curfew or not associate with certain people.

You will not have to pay to be released on bail pending further enquiries, but you can be arrested for breaching the conditions of pre-charge bail.

The police must now consider releasing suspects on Pre Charge Bail where a case is ongoing. The police must follow a set of rules by law. Read more about the recent Pre-Charge Bail law updates here


Charged with a crime

If you are charged with a crime, the exact details of the crime you are being charged with will be set out in a charge sheet and you will be required to sign to say you have been told about your charge and your subsequent Court date.

You will then either be kept in police custody or released on bail until an initial court hearing can be held to decide what happens next.

If you are refused bail and kept in police custody, you must be produced before the next available Magistrates’ Court.

If you are released on bail, the police may set conditions on that bail e.g. to have a curfew, avoid associating with or contacting certain people, visiting certain areas etc.

What happens when you are being released from police custody?

If you are due to be released from police custody, you will go through a standard pre-release process. This includes:

  • Your possessions being returned (apart from items that are being kept as part of an ongoing police investigation)
  • Being allowed to phone a friend or family member to arrange transport home
  • Being issued with a travel warrant for public transport (if you cannot arrange your own transport)
  • The conditions of your bail being explained (where relevant)

Get immediate, expert police station representation any time of day or night

For urgent specialist advice and immediate representation for any type of criminal charges, please call 07836 577 556.

For non-emergency advice and representation, you can contact a member of our dedicated team of criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

  • City of London: 0207 624 7771 - our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment in the City.
  • Brent & Camden London Office: 020 7624 7771
  • Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
  • Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333

Or email:

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.


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