What are my rights if I am arrested and held in custody at a police station?

At Saunders we understand that being arrested and taken to a police station can often be frightening and unsettling – however, you have a number of rights at the police station, and police officers must adhere to proper standards in their treatment of you.

It is important to know your rights if you are taken to a police station, and we hope that the below checklist of these rights will help if you ever find yourself in this situation.

What information should the police provide me with before taking me to a police station?

If you are arrested by the police, and you are not granted bail, then police officers are under an obligation to take you to a police station ‘as soon as practicable’; however, before taking you to a station, police officers must inform you of the following:

  1. That you have been arrested; and
  2. The grounds for your arrest.

The police are also required to give you a caution, confirming that “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, and anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

Who is the Custody Officer?

Once you are at a police station, the Custody Officer (CO) is the key person responsible for authorising your detention and for supervising your welfare.

Upon arrival at a station, you should be taken to see the CO as soon as practicable. The CO will then look at all the evidence available against you and decide whether there are sufficient grounds to charge you with an offence, or, if not, whether there are other grounds or keeping you at the police station, for example in order to secure further evidence by questioning you.

If the CO authorises your detention, they must inform you of any offence or offences for which you have been arrested, the grounds for your arrest, and their reasons for detaining you.

The CO is also responsible for reviewing your detention at regular intervals to ensure that it continues to be justified.

In addition, the CO is responsible for informing you of your rights while you are at the station, and should remind you that you have the right to:

  1. Speak privately with an independent solicitor;
  2. Have another person informed about your arrest;
  3. Consult the Codes of Practice for police officers;
  4. Have a free of charge interpreter if English isn’t your first language; and
  5. Get medical assistance if you feel unwell.

Do I have a right to legal advice?

As above, you have the right to receive independent legal advice while detained at a police station by speaking with a solicitor as soon as practicable.

This advice will be free of charge, unless you request to speak to a solicitor who you wish to pay for. If you do not already have a solicitor, then the police must call the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC) and you will be allocated a ‘Duty Solicitor’.

If your solicitor decides it is necessary for them to attend the police station to advise you in person, you must be informed once they arrive.

Importantly, at no time should any police officer do or say anything to dissuade you from obtaining legal advice, for example by suggesting that you will be released quicker if you decline to speak to a solicitor.

Do I have the right to tell someone that I have been arrested?

As above, you also have the right to have one friend or relative informed of your arrest, the fact that you have been detained, and where you are being held.

The police do have some limited grounds to restrict this right, for example if they believe it would lead to the tampering of evidence.

Will I be searched?

The CO has a duty to find out what items of property you have on your person upon arrival at the police station and can search you themselves or authorise another police officer to conduct the search.

Following a search, the police can seize clothing or personal items from you, if they believe that they form evidence of the crime for which you have been arrested, or if they believe that you may use the item (a) to cause physical injury to yourself or others; (b) to cause damage to property; (c) to interfere with evidence; or (d) to assist you to escape.

How can the police treat me at the station?

While you are at the police station the conditions of your detention and the police’s treatment of you must comply with certain minimum standards, including that:

  • Your cell must be adequately heated, cleaned, ventilated, and lit.
  • Your bedding must be of reasonable standard and clean and sanitary.
  • You must have access to toilet and washing facilities.
  • You should be visited in your cell a minimum of every hour to check on your welfare.
  • You should be offered 2 light meals and 1 main meal in any 24 hour period with drinks at meal-times and when reasonably requested.

It is also important to remember that throughout your arrest and detention, the police are only permitted to use force against you if it is justified, and any force used must not be excessive.

What if I need medical attention?

If you feel you need medical attention you should inform the CO (or ask that they be told by another officer). If the CO considers that any person in custody is injured, appears to be suffering from physical illness or mental disorder, or appears to need clinical attention, they must ensure that they receive appropriate clinical attention as soon as reasonably practicable.

There will be a custody doctor or nurse at the police station for you to speak with. In addition, if it is necessary for your health, the police must take you to a hospital.

What if I am asked to give an interview?

The police may seek to question you in an interview while you are at the police station.

However, the police must not perform an interview until you have received legal advice from a solicitor (unless you have declined legal advice).

The police should also not interview a person if they are unable to (a) appreciate the significance of questions or their answers; or (b) understand what is happening because of the effects of drink, drugs, or any illness, ailment or condition.

In addition, during the interview, police officers should never attempt to use oppression, such as raising their voice or making threats, to obtain information from you, or offer you an inducement to admit guilt to an offence.

Plus, if the interview takes place over 24 hours, you must be given at least 8 hours continuous rest, and you should be given breaks at recognised mealtimes and refreshment breaks every 2 hours.

How long can I be kept at the police station without being charged?

Most of the time you should not be kept in detention at the police station for more than 24 hours without being charged with an offence; however, if it is justified to assist their investigation, the police may obtain the authorisation from an officer of the rank of superintendent or above, to keep you for up to a maximum of 36 hours.

If the police wish to keep you at the police station without charge for any longer than 36 hours, they must obtain permission from a Magistrates Court. The maximum time the court can then authorise for you to be detained without charge is for up to 96 hours (i.e., 4 days).

If you believe that the police breached any of your rights at a police station, you may have grounds to make a complaint or a potential claim for compensation against the police.

Our expert team of police action, civil liberties and human rights solicitors are experienced in bringing claims against the police. They are always happy to discuss your concerns about an incident involving the police. If you think that you or someone you know has been mistreated in custody at a police station, call our office on 0207 632 4300.


    How can we help?

    Please fill in the form and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can

    We have partnered with Law Share from JMW Solicitors LLP to refer instructions and clients to them, when we are unable to act. By answering yes to this question, you agree that we may pass your details on to Law Share in such circumstances. You are under no obligation to instruct JMW Solicitors LLP after being referred. We may receive a payment from JMW Solicitors LLP further to this referral.