You have the Right to a Lawyer – So Use It!

I didn’t ask for a lawyer as I have not done anything wrong”

The police said that it would take a while for the duty lawyer to arrive and I just wanted to get the interview over and done with and get out of the police station”

I took the caution as I wanted to get out of the police station”

If I had £1 for every time I have heard these comments from a client, I would be sitting on a beach somewhere hot and sunny now rather than writing this!

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act provides the right to a lawyer, either one that you request or a duty lawyer. The reason for this is not just to advise on the criminal law it is to protect your interests in the police station. Sadly the TV only ever portrays the work of a lawyer in the police station as sitting in on the interview, but in reality your interests are much more than just making sure you are dealt with fairly in interview.

The way police interviews are portrayed on TV, is very similar to what happens in real life. The interviews are all audio recorded and many are video recorded as well, and you can request copies of the tapes from the police. Hence, although I would recommend that anyone who attends an interview has a lawyer present, it can often be more important to have a lawyer representing you outside of the interview room.

The interview is only one aspect of a person’s time in the police station. The length of time spent in the cells, the bail conditions, whether a caution or fixed penalty notice is offered (and whether the offer should be accepted), are all matters that a lawyer can help with. In general, people who have a lawyer spend less time in custody in the cells, have less strict bail conditions, or are more likely to be released and bailed to attend court instead of being held in custody to attend court.

While it is possible to challenge police bail in court, it can take a few days for the court to list the matter and in the meantime the bail conditions may be so strict that a person effectively cannot go outside their front door for risk of breaching their bail conditions. Hence, it is better if a lawyer makes representations to the police at the time. Conditions such as ‘not to enter a town X’ or ‘not to travel on public transport’ are commonly imposed on those who are unrepresented, and are so easily breached especially if a person has to enter the town or use the train or bus to get to work or to visit family.

The person who accepts the police bail conditions just because they want to get out of the police station will often not realise the consequences of such restrictions, and that if they breach the bail conditions, not only can they be arrested, but they can end up in front of the court. On a breach of bail, in certain situations, it is open to the court to decide that the detainee should be remanded in custody…they are sent to prison on remand until the case is dealt with by the court.

This sounds extreme and for most who are given police bail, this never happens, but in general it is more likely to happen to those who did not have a lawyer at the police station, and who didn’t think it could happen to them.

Likewise, the quickest way to get out of the cells is to ask for a lawyer. Once booked into the cells, there is a time limit on the amount of time a person can be held in custody. This is known as ‘the custody clock’. It is worth remembering that the custody clock starts ticking from the time a person enters the custody suite at the police station and not from the time the lawyer arrives, so in general, the police will make the call to the lawyer straight away, and will chase if the lawyer has not arrived within a reasonable period of time. Waiting for a lawyer is highly unlikely to extend the amount of time a person is held in the cells.

Although a caution or fixed penalty notice will seem like ‘no big deal’ when it is being offered, in reality it can be a huge deal. A caution can affect employment, will show up on a Criminal records Bureau check, and can be used against a person in the future. I see many cases where someone has taken a caution or fixed penalty notice merely due to their haste to be released from the cells, they are then arrested for another matter a few years later and this caution or fixed penalty notice is used against them to show their anti-social nature. These cautions and fixed penalty notices show up on a police national computer and can be used in court as evidence of previous criminal history.

Alternatively it may be that an offence has been committed, but that it is quite minor, and the lawyer can make a request for a caution in circumstances where the police would not readily offer one. This means a person avoids being placed under bail conditions and avoids going to court.

For those of you wondering if this is just a promotional post from a lawyer trying to get more work, it is actually the opposite. I am not a police station representative, and the work I undertake in court is often in response to people not having representation in the police station.

But if you are ever unfortunate enough to be arrested, please think of me in my ‘you have the right to a lawyer…so use it‘ T-shirt!

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About gurdena

Social Justice Lawyer, interested in all things contentious. Specialising in criminal law, and anything criminal justice related, also employment law. Door tenant at 1 Grays Inn Square chambers. Find out more at www.alisongurden.com

One response to “You have the Right to a Lawyer – So Use It!”

  1. Mary Rhodes says :

    I really enjoyed reading this post!

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