Voluntary police interview: What to do if the police call you in for questioning

18th August 2019 | Legal Insights & Resources|
Nick Titchener headshot

Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

If you are asked to attend a voluntary interview at a police station you are not under arrest, but must be cautioned which means that what you say may be used as evidence. You are free to leave at any time unless arrested and are entitled to legal representation throughout. Refusing to attend a voluntary interview may result in being arrested, and a voluntary interview should not be considered less serious than any other type of interview as it still means you are suspected of a crime.

Voluntary police interview

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at London Criminal Defence Solicitors, Lawtons, discusses voluntary police interviews, your rights if you are asked to attend a voluntary interview and the implications of an interview.

Since 2013, a significant change had taken place regarding the methods concerning how the police deal with the questioning and interviewing of people they suspect of being involved in criminal behaviour.

As the pressure on police resources continues and budgets are cut, the police are increasingly using voluntary police interviews as a way of dealing with suspects of criminal offences.

What is a voluntary police interview?

Also known as voluntary attendance, a voluntary police interview takes place at a police station where the volunteer assists the police with their enquiries. They are not under arrest at this time. An interview will be recorded and will take place under caution – meaning it may be used as evidence.

What is the purpose of voluntary interviews?

The main reason for police using voluntary interviews is that they provide an alternative to making an arrest. This is common in cases where the police are uncertain whether they have sufficient grounds to suspect an individual of committing a crime and are therefore unable to make an arrest. 

For police, there is also the added benefit of avoiding suspects being released on bail for long periods, as a result of delays after their arrest. Plus, it is more cost effective for the police than making an arrest and holding suspects in detention. 

What rights do you have when attending a voluntary police interview?

A ‘volunteer’ has the right to access independent legal advice and they are free to leave the police station unless they are arrested. If the decision is taken to arrest the suspect, a police officer must inform the custody officer, then they are obliged to inform the volunteer that they are under arrest, essentially preventing them from leaving the police station.

What’s the difference between a standard police interview and a voluntary police interview according to UK law?

Traditionally, criminal suspects were arrested and held in police custody for interview. If the police decide they want to speak to a suspect without arresting them, they will be invited for a voluntary interview. As such, the key difference between a standard interview and a voluntary interview is the fact that the suspect is not under arrest at the time they are asked to attend the interview.

Voluntary interviews are increasingly popular with the police as they do not have to hold suspects in custody suites and they also do not have to prove legal representation. A criminal defence solicitor attends a police interview to protect the suspect’s rights if they are accused of an offence, so their expertise is invaluable.

A voluntary interview is often used by the police in the investigation of historical allegations of offences including sexual assault and rape.

Can an appropriate adult attend a voluntary police interview?

If an individual invited for a voluntary interview is aged under 18, or they are classified as a vulnerable adult, an appropriate adult must be present at the interview. By law, they must also be present during any identification procedures or intimate searches.

This adult must be aged over 18 and they can be a parent, guardian or social worker.

Can you refuse a voluntary police interview in the UK?

If you are invited to attend a voluntary police interview, you may be arrested and have to give a standard interview whilst in custody. There is a risk that you could be prevented from receiving legal advice from your chosen solicitor.

Despite the fact the interview is voluntary, it is no less serious than an interview under caution. You are entitled to independent legal advice whether you are giving a voluntary or standard interview.

As independent experts, we can help guide you through this process. We can arrange the interview with the police, at a time and date to suit you. Contact the team of criminal defence solicitors at Lawtons and we can arrange for you to be represented by a specialist whatever the offence and wherever the interview.

About the author

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor with considerable experience in legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex case.

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.

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