a person living in a democratic society you have rights. The Universal
Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to life,
liberty and security of person, that all are equal before the law and
entitled, without discrimination to equal protection of the law. No-one
shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, and that everyone
charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until
proved guilty according to law at a public trial in which he has had all
the guarantees necessary for his defence.
Unfortunately, far too often people are denied their fundamental rights.
Quite often they could help themselves, if they knew these rights. Below
are some of the more important basic rights everyone is entitled to.
Arrest Without A Warrant
A policeman can arrest you without a magistrate's warrant for many offences.
Briefly, if he has reasonable cause for suspecting that you have committed,
are committing, or are about to commit, an arrestable offence: i.e.
all offences of theft, blackmail, obtaining property by deception, most
serious offences against the person, unlawful possession of drugs and
If you are told you are being arrested ask what for. He is bound to
tell you. Note carefully what he says, his number (if in uniform); do
not resist arrest even if it is unjust.
If asked to accompany an officer to the station ask if you are under
arrest. If not, you do not have to go, but he can detain you to search
for drugs or give a breathalyser test.
Arrest With A Warrant
If a policeman has a magistrate's warrant to arrest you, it must be
shown or read to you as soon as possible. Except in the case of a civil
debt, e.g. non-payment of rates or maintenance, in which case it must
be shown to you actually on arrest. Ask to see it and note whether it
states that you are to be released on bail.
Search And Seizure Before Arrest
Generally speaking the police cannot search you and seize articles before
arrest, but under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967 the police can search
and detain a person or vehicle if they suspect possession of drugs and
may seize anything they find which appears to offer evidence of a drugs
offence. In some cities this can also relate to suspected stolen property.
Search Of Premises
The police cannot search your premises without a search warrant from
a magistrate. A warrant issued under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 is
valid for 30 days and gives police power to search premises or persons
named, and to seize any drugs, papers or substances as evidence.
If you live in premises which are, or were in the past year, occupied
by a person convicted in the last five years of handling stolen goods,
police can enter and search on written authority from a superintendent.
Whatever the case you are entitled to be shown the warrant before letting
them in. If police are posted outside while a warrant is fetched and
you later prove to be innocent you can legally sue for defamation of
You are not bound to answer any police questions (except on who was
driving your car at a given time). However, it is better to say, "I
do not wish to say anything until I have seen a solicitor" than
to stay silent as this could imply an admission. Give your name and
address so that family and friends can be informed of your arrest.
Once arrested police cannot question you unless cautioned, "You
are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so, but what you
say may be put down in writing and used in evidence". The writing
down need not be in your presence.
You should be cautioned again immediately on being charged and again
if any further questions are asked. If under 17 you should as far as
possible be questioned in the presence of your parents or guardian.
Do not take notice of police threats, inducements or promises that
a confession will make things easy for you.
Bail can be granted by the police or the magistrate. If you are arrested
on a warrant and it does not state that you should be given bail, the
police cannot grant it. However, when arrested without a warrant (more
usual) they may release you on bail and must if it will be 24 hours
before they can bring you to a magistrate and if the offence is not
You will be required to make a recognisance (a promise to pay a specified
sum of money if you fail to attend court) with or without sureties,
in a reasonable amount, to appear in court at the time specified. If
the offence is serious, or if you are under 17 and in need of care,
or if release would defeat the ends of justice, the police will not
grant bail. On your first appearance in court you can apply for bail.
If over 17 and the offence is minor (i.e. carries no more than a maximum
sentence of 6 months' imprisonment) the magistrate must grant bail unless
one of the following applies:
1) You have previously been in prison or borstal.
2) You have failed to answer bail before.
3) The offence is alleged to have been committed while on bail or if
an offence is likely to be committed whilst on bail.
4) While they establish your identity and address, or if you have no
fixed address or live outside the UK.
5) If the alleged offence is one of violence, or having a weapon, or
6) For your own safety.
If you are refused bail or the amount is absurdly high you can apply
to a high court judge to grant or lower the amount of bail, but there
is no legal aid to do this.
Recognisances And Sureties
Bail does not mean you must produce this money. It means that you, or
your sureties, could pay it if you failed to appear. You may have to
get sureties. These are people to also sign an obligation to pay if
you do not appear.
You may either write a statement or you can dictate it to a policeman
who must write down the exact words spoken, may not prompt, and must
only ask questions necessary to make the statement coherent. It should
be signed as being quite voluntary and true, and countersigned by all
Never sign a statement until you have read it through carefully. Foreigners
can make a statement in their own language.
Seeing A Solicitor
If you do not know a lawyer, do not accept a police recommendation but
get your friends or relatives to get you one. Do not make any statements
or sign anything until he arrives. You are entitled to talk to him out
of hearing of anybody else. At this stage he is the only person you
can talk to freely. Do not talk to anyone else including relatives.
Insist on using a telephone, unless a telegram is better, to give an
essential message to your lawyer, friends or relatives, or you can ask
for writing materials. A letter or telegram can be posted or sent by
taxi at your own expense. You can sometimes be seen by relatives or
friends but not in private and you cannot exchange any articles.
Fingerprinting And Photographing
Without a magistrate's order the police cannot take your fingerprints
until you are convicted, and to do so without your consent is assault.
The same applies for photographs.
You cannot be forced to go on an identity parade. Never do so without
The police should give you a form containing precise details of the
charge and a statement that you are not advised to say anything. Note
the name and number of the arresting officer and the time when you are
Once charged the police can search you for evidence or things that you
could injure yourself or others with while in custody. Other articles
you are entitled to retain. A list of the things taken will be shown
to you; read it carefully before signing it.
Police Warrant Card
Ask to see and examine an officer's warrant card and try to note his
name and number.
The police must tell you as soon as possible what you are charged with.
If arresting you on a warrant they must show you as soon as possible.
They must allow you to communicate with, telephone or telegram your
family, friends or lawyer, immediately after arrest. They must allow
you to talk to your lawyer out of their hearing. They must not compel
you to accompany them to the station unless arresting you. They must
not hold out any inducements or make any promise or threat in order
to get a statement from you: such a statement can be ruled inadmissible
by the court. They must not compel you to have fingerprints taken without
a magistrate's order. They must not search your premises without a magistrate's
warrant or special police authority which you are entitled to see.
You can apply for legal aid at the magistrates court or obtain an application
form at the clerk's office. You can name a lawyer you desire. Refusal
of legal aid depends on your financial situation.
FROM: ARREST: A GUIDE FROM THE NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES