Legal advice at the police station
Your right to free legal advice
You have the right to free legal advice if you’re questioned at a police station. You can change your mind later if you turn it down initially.
How you can get free legal advice
You must be told about your right to free legal advice after you’re arrested and before you’re questioned at a police station. You can:
- ask for the police station’s ‘duty solicitor’ – they’re available 24 hours a day and independent of the police
- tell the police you would like legal advice – the police will contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC)
- ask the police to contact a solicitor, eg your own one
You may be offered legal advice over the phone instead of a duty solicitor if you’re suspected of having committed a less serious offence, eg being disorderly. The advice is free and independent of the police.
Being questioned without legal advice
Once you’ve asked for legal advice, the police can’t question you until you’ve got it – with some exceptions.
The police can make you wait for legal advice in serious cases, but only if a senior officer agrees.
The longest you can be made to wait before getting legal advice is 36 hours after arriving at the police station (or 48 hours for suspected terrorism).
You have the right to free legal advice if you are questioned by the police.
How long you can be held in custody?
The police can hold you for up to 24 hours before they have to charge you with a crime or release you.
They can apply to hold you for up to 36 or 96 hours if you’re suspected of a serious crime, eg murder.
You can be held without charge for up to 14 days If you’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.
When you can be released on bail
The police can release you on police bail if there’s not enough evidence to charge you. You don’t have to pay to be released on police bail, but you’ll have to return to the station for further questioning when asked.
You can be released on conditional bail if the police charge you and think that you may:
- commit another offence
- fail to turn up at court
- intimidate other witnesses
- obstruct the course of justice
This means your freedom will be restricted in some way, eg they can impose a curfew on you if your offence was committed at night.
Giving fingerprints, photographs and samples
The police have the right to take photographs of you. They can also take fingerprints and a DNA sample (eg from a mouth swab or head hair root) from you as well as swab the skin surface of your hands and arms. They don’t need your permission to do this.
The police need both your permission and the authority of a senior police officer to take samples like blood or urine, or to take dental impressions.
This doesn’t apply when they take a blood or urine sample in connection with drink or drug driving.
Information from fingerprints and samples is stored in a police database.
You can find out if your information is stored on the police database by getting a copy of your police records from your local police station.
You have to write to your local police (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)or local police (Scotland) to have your personal information removed from the police database.
They’ll only do this if an offence no longer exists or if anything in the police process (eg how you were arrested or detained) was unlawful.
Being charged with a crime
If you are charged with a crime you will be given a ‘charge sheet’. This sets out the details of the crime you are being charged with.
The police will decide if you:
- can go home until the court hearing – but may have to follow certain rules, known as ‘bail’
- are kept in police custody until you are taken to court for your hearing
Your first court hearing after you are charged with a crime will be at amagistrates’ court or a ‘virtual court’ using video technology – even if your trial will be at a Crown Court later on.
If you’re under 18, your first hearing will usually be at a youth court.
If you’re under 17, the police must arrange for you to be held in local authority accommodation, if possible, before you go to court.
If you’re aged 12 to 16, the police can decide to keep you at the police station if they think it will protect the public.
You can be released on bail at the police station after you’ve been charged. This means you will be able to go home until your court hearing.
If you are given bail, you might have to agree to conditions like:
- living at a particular address
- not contacting certain people
- giving your passport to the police so you can’t leave the UK
- reporting to a police station at agreed times, eg once a week
If you don’t stick to these conditions you can be arrested again and be taken to prison to wait for your court hearing.
When you attend your hearing at a magistrates’ court or a ‘virtual court’ – video conferencing in court – you might be given bail again until your trial begins.
Reasons you may not be given bail
You’re unlikely to be given bail if:
- you are charged with a serious offence, eg armed robbery
- you’ve been convicted of a serious crime in the past
- you’ve been given bail in the past and not stuck to the terms
- the police think you may not turn up for your hearing
- the police think you might commit a crime while you’re on bail
Police cautions, warnings and penalty notices
The police or Crown Prosecution Service can give you a caution (warning) or a penalty notice if you commit a minor crime.
Cautions are given to anyone aged 10 or over for minor crimes – eg writing graffiti on a bus shelter.
You have to admit an offence and agree to be cautioned. You can be arrested and charged if you don’t agree.
A caution is not a criminal conviction, but it could be used as evidence of bad character if you go to court for another crime.
Cautions can show on standard and enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.
You have to stick to certain rules and restrictions as part of a conditional caution, eg:
- going for treatment for drug abuse
- fixing damage to a property
You could be charged with a crime if you don’t stick to the conditions.
Penalty notices for disorder
Penalty notices for disorder are given for offences like:
- possessing cannabis
- being drunk and disorderly in public
You can only get a penalty notice if you’re 18 or over.You’ll be asked to sign the penalty notice ticket. You won’t get a criminal conviction if you pay the penalty.You can ask for a trial if you disagree with the penalty notice. You’ll get a bigger fine if you don’t ask for a trial but don’t pay the fine.
You can pay a fixed penalty online.