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Voluntary Police Interview - What You Need to Know
Have you or a loved one been asked to attend a voluntary interview with police or another UK law enforcement agency? If so, you may be wondering exactly what this is, how it’s different to being arrested and what you need to do to protect yourself.
The first thing to note is that just because it is called a ‘voluntary’ interview, doesn’t mean you should simply refuse to attend. Although you can say no, this could result in the police deciding to arrest you so they can carry out a standard police interview instead.
It’s also important to realise just how serious a voluntary police interview can be. If you are asked to attend a voluntary police interview, it usually means that the police suspect you of involvement in a crime. Depending on the outcome of the interview, you could find yourself arrested and charged with a crime, or summons to attend Court.
This guide covers some of the most common questions people have about voluntary police interviews, but if you have been invited to a voluntary interview with police (also called an ‘interview under caution’ or a caution plus 3.), we strongly urge you to contact our team as soon as possible.
It is essential to have expert legal representation for an interview under caution as this can help to prevent you from saying anything that could harm your defence and give you the best chance of avoiding criminal charges.
If you or someone you know has been asked to attend a voluntary police interview, you can contact us 24-hours a day, seven days a week for immediate legal advice and representation.
What is a voluntary police interview?
A voluntary police interview or interview under caution is a formal conversation with police that usually takes place at a police station. You do not have to attend and you can leave at any time once the interview has begun. However, as noted above, failure to attend or attempting to leave could result in you being arrested.
While a voluntary interview might be conducted in a less formal way than an interview under arrest, the conversation will still be recorded and anything you say can potentially be used against you in any subsequent criminal proceedings.
You have the right to a solicitor during an interview under caution and, once you have requested a solicitor, the police officers are not allowed to ask you any questions until your solicitor has arrived.
You will normally be invited to the interview in writing, with the option of two different dates to choose from. You can also suggest an alternative date if needed.
What happens at a police interview?
At the start of the interview, the police should tell you:
- The names of the officers in attendance
- That the interview is being recorded
- The purpose of the interview – including what offence is being investigated
- That you can choose to end the interview at any time
- That you do not have to say anything
- That anything you do say can be used against you in a court of law
- That you have the right to legal representation
You should be formally cautioned – if this does not happen, then anything you say during the interview may potentially be considered inadmissible as evidence by a court.
They will then ask you questions which can cover issues such as:
- Your whereabouts at certain times
- Whether you know certain people
- Your knowledge of specific events
You have the right to breaks (normally 15 minutes every two hours) if the interview goes on for this long.
Why do police use voluntary interviews?
There are various reasons why the police may choose to use a voluntary interview including:
- The police do not feel they have sufficient grounds to suspect you of having committed a crime, so they cannot arrest you
- They may feel you will be more cooperative if you are not under arrest
- There has been significant pressure on the police in recent years to avoid having suspects be released on bail for long periods and delaying the point of arrest can help reduce the length of time a suspect is on bail
- It can be cheaper for the police than the cost of an arrest and detention
- Police do not believe that the person’s arrest is necessary at that point
Is it a bad idea to speak to police voluntarily?
Not necessarily – it is usually preferable to being arrested for a start! The key thing is to make sure you do not say anything which increases your likelihood of being arrested or charged with an offence or that undermines your defence if you are charged.
It is therefore very strongly recommended to have a specialist criminal defence lawyer with you during a police interview under caution to make sure you stay protected. If you take this precaution, attending a voluntarily police interview may be in your best interests.
What happens after a voluntary police interview?
Following a voluntary police interview under caution you could be:
- Free to go
- Arrested and charged with a criminal offence
- Released under investigation
- If you are told that you will be reported for a charge to be considered against you, you may need to supply your fingerprints, DNA sample and photograph.
- You may be requested to consent to taking part in an identification process, or voluntarily surrender items.
If you are charged with a criminal offence, you will need the very best legal representation for your case to help avoid conviction or reduce the potential penalties if conviction is unavoidable.
If you are released under investigation, it is a good idea to take specialist legal advice as you may still be arrested and charged with a criminal offence at any time.
One common problem is that the police are not required to inform you if they decide to take no further action following a voluntary interview. This often leaves people feeling like they are ‘on the hook’ for an offence, even if no further action is taken.
Similarly, you may only find out that further action is being taken at the point when you suddenly receive a summons to attend court proceedings.
An experienced criminal defence solicitor can maintain pressure on the police to make a decision and ensure you stay informed, helping to reduce any potential for worry following a voluntary interview under caution.
Do you need a lawyer for a voluntary police interview?
Yes! As we’ve hopefully made clear, there can be significant dangers involved in a police interview under caution if you do not have proper legal representation. Saying the wrong thing could easily lead to you being arrested or charged with a criminal offence. Any mistakes you make at this early stage could also be very difficult to recover from later.
For this reason, we urge you to contact our expert criminal defence solicitors as soon as possible if you or a loved one have been invited by police to an interview under caution.
Is a voluntary interview at a police station better than being arrested?
In many ways, being voluntarily interviewed by police is not that different to being interviewed under arrest. However, one key benefit is that you will not have been arrested, so you will not need to disclose the police interview if, for example, you ever need to undergo a DBS check for work.
What to do if someone under 18 is invited to a voluntary police interview
If someone under the age of 18 (or a vulnerable adult) is invited to a police interview under caution, then an appropriate adult must be present during the interview. They must also be present during an identification process or intimate searches that take place.
This appropriate adult will normally be the parent, guardian or social worker of the young person or vulnerable person.
Common mistakes to avoid when attending a voluntary police interview
Thinking you are just being interviewed as a potential witness
One of the most common errors people make is to not realise the seriousness of the situation or that they are at risk of criminal charges.
Many people fall into the trap of thinking they are being interviewed as a potential witness and police officers may not necessarily always make it clear that this is not the case. This can lead them to disclosing things that they would otherwise have kept to themselves.
Ignoring the letter inviting you to an interview
This can be tempting – either because you think you do not need to bother or because you hope the police will give up if they don’t hear from you. In reality, ignoring the letter can mean the police will simply decide to arrest you instead.
Speaking to the police voluntarily without a lawyer
We can’t stress enough what a bad decision this is! It is very easy to mistakenly say the wrong thing during a police interview, leaving yourself at risk of arrest and criminal charges. Please never speak to the police without a specialist criminal defence lawyer present as there is a strong chance you will regret it.
Contact our criminal defence lawyers today
For a free initial consultation, urgent specialist advice or immediate representation for a voluntary police interview, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
- Brent & Camden London Office: 020 7624 7771
- Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
- Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333
- City of London: 0207 624 7771 (our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment in the City)
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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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