Online Archive  
Issue 3 - March 1972
Arrest - Your Rights
As 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 many others.

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 character.

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 serious.

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 indecent assault.
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 officers present.

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.

Contacting 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.

Identity Parades
You cannot be forced to go on an identity parade. Never do so without legal advice.

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 charged.

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.

Legal Aid
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.