Don't Get Caught Out By Police Interviews At Home
The Law Of… attending voluntary interviews
When does a 'friendly' chat mean anything but? When it's with a policeman and you are a suspect.
Julie Robertson, Head of Motoring and Criminal Defences at Simpson Millar, warns against the seemingly innocuous practice of a voluntary interview in the home.
Offsetting the Seriousness Of A Police Interview
A convivial chat with your friendly neighbourhood bobby. It all sounds very cosy and 'off the record', doesn't it? Be warned though, as it's hardly morning tea with the vicar and you could find yourself admitting to more than you would otherwise intend.
The prospect of going to a police station can be a daunting one, particularly when you believe you have committed no offence, which is why the offer of a voluntary interview within the more familiar confines of your own home can seem so tempting. Who wouldn't prefer the comforts of their living room and settee over the sterile, unwelcoming environment of an interview room and its inherent air of intimidation?
It is the choice of words though that is particularly insidious. Whether 'voluntary' or 'pop around for a chat' – and this also applies if you are asked to attend a police station for a voluntary interview or 'chat' – both immediately offset the seriousness of any situation where a police officer is wanting to interview you. A 'voluntary interview' or 'chat' on the Chesterfield sofa does not sound as loaded with consequence as a straightforward arrest and four hour interrogation under the cold lights of interview room one.
But voluntary or involuntary, the results can be just the same.
An Absolute Right To Legal Representation
Disarming people in this manner gives the investigating officer an immediate upper hand. It often also creates an impression, in the minds of those being questioned, that this 'informal' meeting is not significant enough to warrant anything in the way of legal representation.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), which provides a code of practice for investigating police officers to adhere to, states that someone who is interviewed under caution must be informed:
"… they are not under arrest, they are not obliged to remain at the station or other location but if they agree to remain, they may obtain free and independent legal advice if they want."
Prior to this, or prior to arrest, there is no obligation for the interviewee to be informed of this right.
"Without an arrest or a caution beforehand, somebody attending a voluntary interview in either their home or at a station, but particularly in their home where the informality of the situation – for them, at least – will really sink in, will not be informed of their rights to legal advice before agreeing to talk."
"This immediately places them at potential risk of saying something that could either incriminate them or call into question their version of events. If they did do that, then a conscientious police officer would caution – or arrest – the interviewee prior to continuing and inform them of their right to a lawyer, but by then an off-the-cuff remark may already have set them in a bad light. There is also the danger of a less than scrupulous police officer allowing the interview to continue without intervening and then reporting the individual for summons to court on the basis of a written up transcript, with no visual or audio recording as backup."
"Vulnerable people are particularly at risk here and with the recent introduction of the 28-day bail limit – restricting the amount of time a person can be kept on police bail without charge – there is a distinct possibility that these voluntary interviews will become more prevalent. This will either be in a bid to extend the amount of time to carry out an investigation before prosecuting, or to increase the likelihood of an alleged suspect, who has not taken legal advice, getting caught off guard and incriminating themselves."
"The importance of proper representation cannot be emphasised enough and anybody attending an interview, whether voluntary or mandatory, down the station or elsewhere, has an absolute right to take independent legal advice."
"If asked to attend a voluntary interview, do not let a false sense of security affect your thinking. Seek legal advice and ensure your back is covered."