It may well be that you have been invited to a police station for a “voluntary interview” in relation to allegations being under suspicion of having committed a sexual offence and you may wonder why you would need legal representation in such an event. The police will tell you that you have attended the police station voluntarily and that you are “free to go at any time". However, if you say, “I’ll leave then”, you may find yourself arrested. The police will tell you that you are entitled to independent legal advice at the police station and if you have attended without such legal representation they will provide somebody under the “Duty Solicitor Scheme”. This in itself is something of a misnomer. Not all of the representatives at the police station are solicitors. Many are known as “Police Station Representatives”. They will be a local lawyer who is “next cab off the rank” and who will deal with any kind of case from the theft of a bicycle to a murder.
If you do not have a representative with you and choose to have the “duty solicitor” it may be that you are then asked to wait at the police station until they can organise such representation for you which may mean that you are waiting around in the police station reception for some hours. More often than not when a person appears voluntarily, they will be told what the nature of the allegation is ie, “X has said that you have done Y". However, formal disclosure which is given to whomever is representing you is not usually given to the volunteer (you in this case).
The vast majority of our clients are not frequent visitors to the police station and more often than not, this is the first time they have ever been to a police station and it is almost certainly the first time that they have been to a police station as a suspect. Many people think,“I’ve done nothing wrong so I don’t need a solicitor”. It may well be the case that you have not done anything wrong but you will appreciate that there are many people who are in prison who have said they have done nothing wrong and many people who seek to appeal conviction, some of whom are successful and therefore it appears that they did nothing wrong either.
The voluntary interview means that you have attended at the police station voluntarily. You are still a suspect. You are still interviewed under caution.
What does “interviewed under caution” mean?
It means that you are effectively given some rights. The first is that “you do not have to say anything”. You have an absolute right to silence or to say no comment to each or selected questions. The second piece of information within the caution is, “However it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you may later reply on in Court”. That means that you are now being questioned. It may be voluntary but it is still formal.The interview is being digitally recorded. If at a later time you disputed what had been said a recording could be played to the Court or transcribed into what is known as a record of the taped interview (ROTI). You are being questioned. It is your opportunity to give your version of events. If you fail to do that or give a version of events that you later change should you be charged and go to Court, the Court may be able to draw what is known as an “adverse inference” which means they may wonder why you didn’t tell the police whilst in interview something that you are now telling the Court or why you have changed your version of events. Therefore, having a solicitor with you at the police station to obtain the disclosure and take your instructions prior to the interview is vital so that he/she can then advise you as to what you should be saying to the police, if anything, in relation to the allegations that “X” is making against you. Indeed, the last part of the caution is,“anything you do say may be given in evidence”.That brings us back to the point that these interviews are recorded and can be played in Court or made into a ROTI if needs be.
What would you do if you were arrested if you tried to leave? Would you then want a solicitor?
By this point you are arrested and therefore taken into custody. There will be no waiting in reception while your “duty solicitor” turned up. You would go through the formal booking in process with the custody sergeant and then placed in a cell until a duty solicitor could be found for you. You may be there several hours.
Over the years, we have heard from several clients that they have been asked to attend a voluntary interview and have said to the officer in charge of the matter (OIC), “Do I need a solicitor?” The answer from the OIC has on occasion been something along the lines of, “If you have done nothing wrong why do you need a solicitor?”,“You can have one but it may take ages for us to organise one so you may be better off without one”, “It is just going to be a quick interview so we can get your side of the story”, “We are not judging you or saying that you have done anything wrong, we are here to get to the truth” You also have the right to stop an interview with the police at any point in order to take further legal advice (on the assumption that you have been given advice prior to the interview). You cannot stop the interview to take advice if you do not have a solicitor with you. If you are asked to attend a voluntary interview, “don’t panic!”. Be clear minded. You will need a solicitor who has experience in this area of law and indeed specialise in dealing with people accused of sexual offences.
We, at Sutton Defence Lawyers, are such solicitors. We can help you if you believe that you are being falsely accused and hopefully we can make the whole scenario go away. Often you are being asked to answer questions in relation to historic allegations where your memory has faded, documents have been lost, potential witnesses have died and so on. It is therefore vital that you have full and appropriate advice throughout the whole process namely, arrival at the police station, obtaining police disclosure, taking your instructions thereon, advising and assisting you in interview and indeed post the interview in relation to the next steps. If you are indeed a volunteer, you will be “released under investigation” whereas if arrested, you could be released on bail which may restrict your movements and activities. This is the only advantage that we can think of to a voluntary interview save and accept that as a volunteer you will not have to have your photograph taken, nor your fingerprints taken, nor a DNA swab taken. If arrested, the police have a right to take all three of the aforementioned, whether you like it or not. Post the interview you will want someone to keep in regular contact with the police so that you can be informed as to what will then be the present state of their investigation. This is something that we do with each police officer on a pre-diarised basis in consultation with you as our client.
There are only ever three outcomes following an interview. They are:-
- You may be asked to attend a police station for a second interview.
- The police in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) take no further action (NFA).
- You are charged with offences in which case your case will be heard before the Magistrates Court within about four weeks of having been charged and more likely than not, because they are sexual offences, the matter will go to the Crown Court for a trial.
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