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What to do if contacted by the police for an interview under caution

The police are increasingly asking people suspected of committing a criminal offence to attend the police station voluntarily for an interview under caution rather than arresting them. Such interviews have various names, they can be called an interview under caution, a voluntary interview or a caution plus 3 interview.

Being invited to attend the police station for an interview under caution can be a very unsettling experience. You may have some idea what it is about. Alternatively, you may have no idea. Either way, you are entitled to free and independent legal advice and it is important that you exercise that right.

What is an interview under caution?

An interview under caution is an interview conducted in line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. All formal police interviews with suspects (whether you are there voluntarily or under arrest) start with the officer giving you “the caution”.

The caution is “you do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention something when questioned that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence”.

The police caution is a warning to the person being interviewed. In plain English, what it means is that you have a right to silence. It is up to you if you answer their questions or not. However, if the matter proceeds to court, and you give an account at court which you did not give to the police in interview, the court may be less likely to believe what you have to say. Anything that you do say to the police is recorded and will be used as evidence.

Therefore, what you do or do not say in your police station interview matters and it is important to have legal advice when making this decision.

What are my rights?

The reason it is called a caution plus 3 interview is because at the beginning of the interview the police will read you the caution (see above) and advise you of 3 rights that you have whilst at the police station:

  • You have the right to free and independent legal advice.
  • You are not under arrest.
  • You may leave at any time.

Therefore, the main difference between being interviewed voluntarily as opposed to being interviewed whilst under arrest is that you can technically leave at any time. However, if you do the police may then exercise their powers of arrest in order to stop you from leaving in order to complete the interview with you. Therefore it is in your best interests to attend and stay for the duration of the interview to avoid being arrested.

On the face of it a voluntary interview is a win/win situation for both sides. You are not arrested or kept in custody, while the police are able to complete their interview and make progress with their investigation.

Why am I being interviewed voluntarily?

The police want to interview you in connection to an allegation that has been made.
There could be several reasons for why they are inviting you for an interview under caution rather than arresting you:

  • Convenience and efficiency;
  • It may be that there is not enough evidence to arrest you;
  • Sometimes, particularly with a lengthy investigations, the police will organise voluntary interviews to avoid responsibilities placed upon them when dealing with suspects under arrest;
  • Certain government departments, for example councils or the DWP, do not have powers of arrest so can only interview you if you agree. However, if you refuse they could pass their investigation onto the police to pursue on the behalf (and consequently arrest you to ensure your attendance). Please note that if you are invited for an interview under caution by the council (or another department that is not the police) and there is no officer with the power of arrest present at the interview you will not necessarily be entitled to free legal advice as different funding provisions apply. Please contact us directly for further information.

What will happen when I attend the police station?

When you attend the police station, your solicitor will attend with you.

If the officer has not provided your solicitor with “disclosure” in advance they will give it to your solicitor on the day. Disclosure is information about the allegation that has been made against you. The police should give your solicitor enough information for you to understand the allegation, as well as have an idea of the evidence for or against you. They are unlikely to provide your solicitor with everything and may even hold things back. Your solicitor will have the opportunity to ask the officer some further questions.

You will then have a private and confidential consultation with them prior to your interview. Your solicitor will explain their role to you, take you through the disclosure and take a note of your version of events. They will then advise you on the law, the meaning of the police caution, and on your options.

Whether or not it is in your interests to answer the police questions or exercise your right to silence will depend on your individual case. You will have as long as you need with your solicitor prior to the interview to discuss this, and your solicitor will give you advice.

You will then be taken into the interview room and the interview will be conducted by the police. Your solicitor will be with you throughout.

After the interview you will leave and it is likely that you will be told that the investigation is continuing. Your solicitor will take the officer’s details and continue to chase them for updates on your behalf and also keep you informed.

What are the outcomes of a caution plus 3 interview?

There are three likely outcomes:

  1. You will face no further action and that is the end of the matter.
  2. Depending on the nature of the offence and your previous history you may be offered an out of court disposal, for example a caution or community resolution. It should be noted that you will have had to admit the offence for a caution or community resolution to be offered.
  3. You are charged by postal requisition and will receive a court date in the post.

Sometimes after a voluntary interview the police decide very quickly what action (if any) will be taken against you. However, often it can be several months until one of the above decisions is reached.

What should I do if I have been contacted by the police?

  1. If you have received a telephone call, letter, or simply a card through the door inviting you to make contact and arrange a convenient time to go to the police station, try to make a note of the police officer’s name, station, shoulder or warrant number, or telephone number as this will make it easier for a solicitor to track them down.
  2. Do not speak to the police about the allegation.
  3. Contact a solicitor immediately. We will take the officer’s details from you and liaise with the police on your behalf. We will help you to arrange a time and date for interview which is convenient for you.

We will then attend the police station with you on the day and provide you with advice. We will also keep in touch with the police and you after your interview so that you know what is happening.

Remember that a voluntary interview is not a friendly chat. You are being interviewed as a suspect in a crime. Having a solicitor with you in your interview can make all the difference. It is free and it is your right. If you are contacted by the police your first call should be to a good solicitor.

If you would like advice or representation for a criminal matter please contact one of our specialist criminal solicitors who will be able to assist. You can contact them on 0808 252 5231 or request a call back online.