Describe police powers to detain, interview and search a suspect about a serious arrestable offence

The police have very specific powers in relation to detention.

Grade: A-C | £0.00.

If you are arrested and held at a police station or other premises you have certain statutory rights.

Detained persons are treated in accordance with the Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and the relevant Codes of Practice. The custody officer must ensure that the detained person is informed of his rights.


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.


This right can be delayed for up to a maximum of 36 hours if the person has been detained in connection with an indictable offence, has not yet been charged with an offence and a superior officer authorises the delay.  This could be requested if the police believe that the detainee could ask the solicitor to pass on a message or, inadvertantly or otherwise, alert others to the detainee's predicament. The detainee could be asked to choose another solicitor and in any event he should be allowed to see a solicitor before any court hearing. 


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. 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 someone could be looking for you and getting worried and would end up calling the police to report a missing person.

This right can be delayed for up to a maximum of 36 hours if the person has been detained in connection with an indictable offence, has not yet been charged with an offence and a superior officer authorises the delay.  This could be requested if the police believe that the detainee could pass on a message or alert others to their predicament. Just because the grounds for delaying notification of arrest may be satisfied it does not automatically mean the grounds for delaying access to legal advice will also be satisfied.


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 and also know what the police can and cannot do. It will also help you know what the police are allowed to do for example 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.


This also deals with any instances with people being disabled in any way. For example, if they are blind or deaf they should be treated in a way that is appropriate to them and if English is not their first language the custody officer must request the assistance of an interpreter as quickly as possible.


The detainee must be given a written notice setting out the above three rights, how to get legal advice, his right to a copy of the custody record , a note of the caution and a written notice briefly setting out their entitlements while in custody.



The detained person should tell the police if he feels ill or needs medicine. They will call a doctor or nurse or other healthcare professional and there will be no fee to pay. The detainee may be allowed to take his 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.


The cell should provide reasonable standards of physical comfort. If possible the detained person should be kept in a cell on his own. It should be clean, warm and lit. The bedding should be clean and in good order. They 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 the detained persons own clothes are taken from them the police must provide an alternative form of clothing. Detainees may usually keep clothing and personal effects with them. If the custody officer considers they may use them to harm themselves or others, interfere with evidence, damage property, effect an escape or if they are needed as evidence the custody officer may take away articles they consider necessary but they must tell the detainee why.

Adequate food and drink must be provided. The detainee must be offered 3 meals a day, at least two light meals and one main meal, with drinks. Drinks should also be provided between meals.

Exercise outside should be provided and made available when practicable.

Section 60 of PACE and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 Section 34-39  govern police interviews and the right to silence. PACE Code E 2013 applies to police audio interviews and PACE Code F 2013  applies to the visual recording with sound of interviews with suspects.

The police must caution the individual before the interview commences.  All interviews must be recorded according to the Codes of Practice. Rules apply in the event of a challenge to the accuracy of statements made or evidence obtained as a result of these interviews.

Ordinarily a detained person has a right to legal advice and Code C contains extensive measures about this. However a senior police officer (Superintendent or above) may permit an interview without a solicitor.  This will be appropriate if the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that delay would lead to interference or harm the evidence or cause harm to other persons or allow others involved with the offence to be alerted or if it could hinder their recovery of stolen goods. This is only rarely applicable as illustrated by the case of Samuels 1988. In this case the Court of Appeal felt that the 24 year old defendants' rights had been denied as a result of a general assumption rather than upon justifiable grounds.  As a result Samuel's conviction for robbery was quashed.

The interviews are actually conducted on the basis of trying to obtain a confession or to link the suspect to the offence, however Code C does contain extensive provisions to safeguard against oppressive police methods including torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or the threat of the use of violence.


When questioned by the police the room used to question the detained person in must be warm and lit and they must be allowed to sit. The officers must tell him their name and rank and he will be offered refreshment and allowed to rest for 8 hours out of 24.

Whilst in detention the detainee may be searched and fingerprints, a photograph or DNA may be taken or he may have to take a breath test and he may be charged with an offence. The custody officer is under a duty to record belongings on arrival.  This is to safeguard both the individual and the police.  A non-intimate search can be made if the custody officer considers this necessary.

PACE Code C 2013 covers the guidelines regarding searches of a detained person. A strip search may be made if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is concealing something he should not be allowed to keep whilst in custody for example an item which may be used to cause harm or inflict injury. Strip searches are defined in Code C as searches involving the removal of more than outer clothing’ and includes shoes and socks.  The Code also emphasises that such searches should only be made where there is reasonable suspicion.  Such searches should also be conducted in private and by an officer of the same sex. These provisions are to maintain human dignity.  The Code also stipulates how the search should be conducted, for example suspects should not be required to remove all their outer clothing at the same time.

The police have the power under Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 54 and 55 to conduct an intimate search.  This can only be authorised by a Police Superintendent or above and can only be carried out by a doctor or nurse.  An intimate search consists of the physical examination of a persons’ body orifices other than the mouth.  These searches are intended to deal with situations where the suspect is believed to have concealed an item which would have been used to cause physical injury to themselves or others or that he/she is in possession of a Class A drug.

Finally the police may take fingerprints under
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 61 and take non intrusive body samples such as hair and saliva without the person’s consent.  Intimate samples such as blood, semen, urine etc: are covered by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Section 62 and 63 and can only be taken by a doctor or nurse.

You can normally be detained for up to 24 hours without being charged. This time can be extended by a Police Superintendent or a court. In the case of serious arrestable offences the period may be extended to 96 hours but for this the police must apply to the Magistrates’ Court. 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 Steve Wright, the person alleged to be responsible for the 5 killings in Ipswich, is a recent example which justifies the need for extended detention in serious cases.

On leaving the police station, the detained person can ask for a copy of the Custody Record. This is a record of everything that has happened while he has been detained at the police station. The police have to supply a copy as soon as they can.

The matter of terrorist offences are the subject of separate legislation along with the time limits for detention. PACE Code H 2013 applies to the detention, treatment and questioning by police officers under the Terrorism Act 2000.

(Word Count 1959)


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