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Young people at the police station – an overview

In England and Wales a person aged 10 or over can be arrested, taken to a police station, interviewed and charged. They can be taken to court and convicted of crimes, receiving a criminal record.

Early legal advice at the police station is especially important for young people under the age of 18 years. Attendance at the police station can be a frightening experience for both the young person and their parent or guardian. The process can be fraught with questions such as; what should the young person do in interview? Who should act as the appropriate adult and what is their role? What happens if the young person refuses a voluntary interview? Will the young person receive a criminal record?

Regardless of whether the young person is attending the police station voluntarily or has been arrested, they are entitled to free, independent, legal advice. A legal representative can help guide the young person through the interview process and enable them to make informed decisions.

Voluntary interview or interview after arrest?

Voluntary interviews

Often, a parent or guardian will be contacted by a police officer to say that the young person is suspected of committing a criminal offence and that they would like the young person to attend a voluntary interview (also known as a caution +3 interview). This interview will usually take place at a police station.

Voluntary interviews are common for young people. It avoids the need for the young person to be arrested and brought into custody by the police. It also means that the young person does not have to be kept in custody for a lengthy period of time.

As the young person is not under arrest they can refuse the interview or even attend and then leave the interview at any time. However, if this happens, the police may consider whether an arrest is necessary to facilitate an interview.

At first glance, a voluntary interview can appear less formal than an interview after arrest. It is important to remember however, that even during a voluntary interview, the young person will be under caution. This means that anything said (or not said) may be used as evidence if the case were to go to court. Additionally, the outcome of a voluntary interview can be just the same as if the young person had been interviewed following an arrest for example, the young person could be charged with a criminal offence and have to attend court.

Interviews under arrest

If a young person is arrested, they will usually be taken to a police station and held in a cell until the officers are ready for interview.

A legal representative will make every effort to persuade the police to limit the amount of time that the young person spends in custody. The Home Office Guidance, ‘Concordat on Children in Custody’  is a tool often referred to by a legal representative when making representations regarding this.

On arrival at the police station, the police must as soon as practicable inform an appropriate adult of the young person’s arrest and their whereabouts.

Appropriate adults

Any young person under the age of 18 years who is arrested and brought to the police station or is invited to participate in a voluntary interview must be assisted by an appropriate adult.

The role of the appropriate adult is to safeguard the rights and welfare of the young person. The appropriate adult must ensure that the young person is treated fairly and that they are able to understand what is happening and participate effectively. The appropriate adult role does not extend to providing legal advice. That is the role of the legal representative. However, the appropriate adult can request that a legal representative attend the police station if the young person has not already done so (whether the young person then accepts being assisted by the legal representative is a decision for them).

Appropriate adults are also required to be present when police request consent for, or carry out, various procedures such as fingerprinting, photographing, intimate and strip searches.

Appropriate adults are often family members or friends of family. They must be over 18 years old and not connected to the allegation made or be a potential defence or prosecution witness. There is also an independent scheme that can provides an appropriate adult where needed.

Outcomes at the police station

After interview, the police will review the evidence along with any account put forward in interview and the young person’s circumstances. The police may be able to make a decision straight away regarding a charge or they may bail or release a young person while further investigations are being made.

Once the police investigation has concluded, there are a number of outcomes that may follow:

  1. Charge: If the police decide that there is sufficient evidence to take the case to court they may charge the young person with an offence. The young person will then be required to attend court (or maybe taken to court from the police station if bail is not given).
  2. No further action: This means that the police have decided there is insufficient evidence to charge the young person or it is not in the public interest to do so. The case is then closed.
  3. Out of court disposals: If the young person makes an admission of guilt in interview then the police may consider an out of court disposal rather than a charge. An out of court disposal is generally only considered for less serious offences however, there may be maybe particular circumstances relating to the young person for example, a diagnosis of learning difficulties or a bereavement that will enable a legal representative to argue for an out of court disposal to be considered for more serious offences.

It should also be noted that just because a young person has been to court previously, it does not mean that they cannot be considered for an out of court disposal. A charge is not an inevitability.

Out of court disposals can take various forms:

(i) Triage: This is an informal way of dealing with less serious offending. The young person will usually be required to attend appointments with a Youth Offending Team to address the offending behaviour.

(ii) Community resolution: This generally involves the young person apologising to the victim and/or by the young person agreeing to take some action to try and repair the damage caused. An agreement will usually be made by all the parties involved.

(iii) Youth caution or youth conditional caution: A youth caution is a formal warning by the police.

A young person will have to accept a caution and sign a document to this effect. Following which they will be required to attend appointments with the Youth Offending Team. Failure to attend the appointments will likely lead to the young person being charged for the original offence.

A youth conditional caution is the same as the above but with the addition of conditions being attached to the caution. The young person must abide by these conditions. Failure to do so could lead to a charge.

A legal representative can advise the young person on the various outcomes and the consequences of how each of the above may present on a standard or enhanced criminal record check.

At Hodge Jones & Allen we have a dedicated Youth Justice Team whose practitioners have specialist experience advising and assisting young people. For more information and assistance please call our 24 hour telephone line on 08082768226.