Describe the powers of the police to detain and search a suspect at the police station and the rights of that suspect.

There are a number of rules and regulations regarding a suspect's rights. The police have a number of powers and an individual's rights are set out in codes of practice.

Grade: A-C | £0.00.


The law governing the detention and search of a suspect is set out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 as amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Codes of Practice. Code G deals with arrest and Code C covers detention. Detention in terrorism related cases is governed by the Terrorism Act 2000 as amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.


We will deal with the police powers to detain a suspect at the police station and it is necessary to set them out in some detail as the rights vary depending upon the circumstances.


The police cannot detain someone indefinitely and an important limitation on the powers of the police to detain a suspect is that the statutory powers impose strict time limits. These time limits vary according to the seriousness of the offence under investigation. Where a person is arrested on suspicion of a summary (less serious) offence then the police can only detain them for a maximum of 24 hours. In the case of arrest on suspicion of an indictable (a more serious offence) then the police can, with the permission of a senior officer of the rank of superintendent or above, detain for a further 12 hours (making a total of 36 hours).


In the case of very serious indictable offences the period may be extended to 96 hours but for this the police must apply to the Magistrates’ Court. The magistrates can order detention up to a maximum total of 96 hours. The police must then either charge or release the suspect.  It is only going to be exceptional cases when these powers are needed, possibly to allow the police to gather extensive evidence.  The case of Steven Wright, the person detained on suspicion of killing five women in Ipswich in 2006, is a good example of the need for extended detention in serious cases. In this case there was a need to analyse extensive forensic evidence. Steven Wright was subsequently convicted in 2008.


In cases where the suspect has been arrested for terrorism offences. The detention may be extended to 14 days by a magistrate. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 permanently reduced the pre-charge detention period to a maximum of 14 days by amending the Terrorism Act. Up until that point the period of detention was subject to Parliamentary review.


Turning to individual rights during detention, these include the right to have a custody officer monitor detention and keep a custody record to ensure the Codes of Practice are adhered to. The Codes of Practice are rules which will tell you what the police can and cannot do while you are at the police station. The police must inform you of your right to read the Codes of Practice and will let you read them, but you cannot read it for so long that it holds up the police investigations. If you want to read the Codes of Practice, tell the Police Custody Officer. You have the right to know what you can and cannot do. It will also help you know what the police are allowed to do. It will explain how long they can hold you, or your rights, if you are under 18, to have with you a responsible adult aged 18 or over who is not employed by the police.

The rights of a suspect include the right to have someone informed of the detention. You can ask the police to contact one person who is interested in your welfare or who is known to you, and tell them that you are at the police station. There is nothing to pay the police for them doing this and they will contact someone for you as soon as they can. You have the right to let someone know that you are at a police station, because that person could be looking for you and getting worried. They could end up calling the police to report a missing person. It just makes sense to let someone know that you have been arrested so that they know where you are.


This right can be extended if the suspect is under the age of 17 or suffering any mental illness or retardation in which case they will have the right to have a person ‘responsible for his welfare’ informed of the arrest.


An important right is to have access to legal advice. The right to legal advice is free and independent of the police and you can change your mind later if you turn it down initially. It may be limited to telephone advice for minor offences or being allowed to consult privately with a solicitor. A detained person has a right to consult a solicitor in private and free of charge at any time. A duty solicitor scheme is in operation at every police station in England and Wales, so that free telephone advice or a free visit from a solicitor is available. On arrest the custody officer should inform you, in writing or by telling you, that you have a right to free independent legal advice. The police must remind you of your right to see a solicitor during your detention, for example they can inform you before any interview. Some people may feel that when they ask for a solicitor it makes them look guilty, this is not the case, it is your right to have legal advice, more so to help you than to make you look like a guilty suspect. The police must let the detainee speak to a solicitor at any time of the day that the detained person requests, and they must continue to try to contact a solicitor if they don’t answer or they cannot get hold of one. Once you’ve asked for legal advice, the police should not question you until you have received that advice, however there are some exceptions.

The time limits covering the period of detention are strictly adhered to. In the case of summary offences, the suspect has the right to be released after 24 hours if the offence is less serious and the suspect is not charged. If the alleged offence is indictable the right only to be held for 36 hours but permission of a police officer of the rank of superintendent or above. If the alleged offence is indictable then the right to be held for a maximum of 96 hours but only if authorised by magistrates. In suspected terrorism cases the right to only be held for a maximum of 14 days.


There is a right to have access to medical treatment if required. In practical terms this means that the suspect can tell the police if they feel ill or need medicine. They will call a doctor or nurse or other healthcare professional and again this is free. You may be allowed to take your own medicine but the police will have to check first. Detainees should be visited at least every hour whilst in their cells, if they are sleeping and there is no underlying cause for concern they do not have to be woken but if there is some concern due to their state of health they should be checked and roused every half hour and their condition should be assessed and medical help called for if needed. This may seem 'over protective' but we live in an age of alcohol and drug abuse and instances of mental health issues are all too common.


There are specific rights in relation to police cells. Suspects have the right to be detained in an adequately heated, cleaned, lit and ventilated cell. The cell should provide reasonable standards of physical comfort. If possible you should be kept in a cell on your own. Bedding should be clean and in good order. You must be allowed to use a toilet and have a wash. Juveniles should not be placed in police cells unless there is no other secure accommodation suitable or available. They must not be put in a cell with a detained adult.


If your own clothes are taken from you, then the police must provide you with an alternative form of clothing. Suspects also have the right to at least two light meals and one main meal in any 24 hours plus drinks. If a suspect is questioned by the police the room used for questioning must be warm and lit and you must be allowed to sit. In any period of 24 hours a detainee must be given a continuous period of at least eight hours’ rest.


Any breach of these codes or the suspect’s rights can mean legal consequences for the police. A case which highlights the importance of following arrest guidelines is the case of Det Supt Steve Fulcher. The detective failed to follow arrest guidelines in a double murder case in Wiltshire and has resigned. As a result the suspect's rights were compromised. The detective did not caution taxi driver Christopher Halliwell when he led the police officer to the grave of Becky Godden in 2011. Halliwell was found guilty of murdering Sian O'Callaghan but the trial judge ruled on the unlawful nature of what happened when the detective drove the suspect around in a police car for some considerable time without following the codes of practice.


The police have powers to search a suspect at the police station, a strip search is a search involving the removal of more than your outer clothing (outer clothing includes your shoes and socks). The police do have powers to carry out strip searches but strip searches are not carried out routinely. A strip search would be carried out only if it was necessary to remove an article which a person in detention should not be allowed to keep and there was reasonable suspicion that the person might have such an article concealed on their person.


An intimate search is a physical examination of a person’s body orifices other than the mouth.  A high ranking police officer can authorise an intimate search if there is reason to believe that the person has with him an item which he could use to cause physical injury to himself or others, or that he is in possession of a Class A drug.


There are individual rights during searches and there is no automatic power to search, searches are not a matter of routine. Searches are likely to to be intimidating and humiliating for most people and should not be carried out unless there is good reason. This amounts to a right not to be automatically searched as searches can only carried out in certain circumstances.


In the case of strip searches, a suspect has the right only to be strip searched if it is felt necessary to remove an article which a person should not have and only if the strip search is carried out in a private place with same sex officer and only half the clothing removed at any one time.


An intimate search should only be carried out if authorised by a high ranking officer in order to search for Class A drugs or weapons and must be carried out by a doctor or nurse.


If you are from abroad, you have the right to tell your High Commission, embassy or consulate your whereabouts. However there are important exceptions and these rights do not apply to political refugees (whether for reasons of race, nationality, political opinion or religion) and suspects seeking political asylum.


Finally, if you have difficulty understanding English and the interviewing officer cannot speak your language, you should be provided with an interpreter. The interview should not be held in the absence of an interpreter.


(Word count 1956)



Being arrested: your rights - GOV.UK

Police powers - Citizens Advice

'Appropriate adults not being used' for many vulnerable people in custody

Police station duty lawyer: 'You have to be brave in this job


Related Items

The items below list this Essay as being related in some way.

Amazon's recommended Books

RSS Feeds