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Your rights if you're arrested

If you're arrested, you temporarily lose your right to freedom, but you have many other rights that protect you while you're in custody. You should know some basic information about what to expect, and the laws that protect you.

When you’re arrested

If they suspect you’ve been involved in a crime, the police have a right to arrest you wherever you are when they find you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the street, in your home or at work.

What the police must do

If the police intend to arrest you, they must:

  • identify themselves as the police
  • tell you that you are being arrested
  • tell you the suspected offence
  • tell you why it is necessary to arrest you
  • explain that you are not free to leave

The police can use reasonable force to arrest you if you resist or try to escape.

You will probably be handcuffed and taken to a custody office in a police station.

At the police station

Once you arrive at the police station, the custody officer must decide whether there are any legal reasons to keep you in custody. They have to release you if there aren’t any.

If you are kept in jail

If you are kept in custody, the custody officer will tell you why and tell you about your rights while you're held by the police.

The custody officer must also ensure that the rules in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) codes of practice (which set out how you must be treated while you are held) are not broken. 

These include the right to:

  • speak to a solicitor
  • have someone told that you are in custody and where you are
  • see the police codes of practice
  • have regular breaks for food
  • use the toilet

If you are under 17

If you are under 17, the police must find a guardian or parent to come to the station to help you. 

That person will be present if the police interview you.

How long can you be held?

You cannot normally be held for more than 24 hours without being charged with a crime. However, for more serious offences, a police superintendent can extend that period to 36 hours. A court can extend it to 96 hours. 

Once the police have completed their investigation and decided not to make any more enquiries, they will decide whether they have enough evidence to charge you with a crime. 

If they do not have enough evidence, you will be released.

If the police decide they do have enough evidence, they may charge you with a crime. However, just because the police have enough evidence to charge you, doesn't mean you will be charged. You may be dealt with in some other way that doesn't involve going to court.

This could involve being fined or given a caution. A caution is a warning the police give you if you have committed a crime.  If you commit another crime after you've been given a caution, you are likely to be charged.

The police can also give you a 'conditional caution' that includes rules you have to follow.  If you break the rules, you may have to go to court.  Cautions are added to your criminal record. If you don't have a criminal record, you will have one after being given a caution.

You may also be given one of the following:

  • a fixed penalty notice for disorder
  • an anti social behaviour order
  • an acceptable behaviour contract

You can find out more by going to the section on 'Punishments on anti social behaviour' in the article Reporting anti social behaviour.

If you’re charged

If you’re charged with a crime, it means the police are formally and legally accusing you of an offence. You will be given a charge sheet with the details of the crime.

Once you’ve been charged, you must have a hearing in a Magistrates' Court. 

The police will decide, based on the charges against you and what they know about you, whether to release you on bail until that hearing or keep you in custody.

You will be released on bail unless the custody officer believes, for example that you:

  • have given a false name and address
  • won’t come to your court hearing
  • will commit crimes while on bail
  • should be held for your own protection

You are unlikely to be released on bail if you are charged with a serious offence such as murder, or if you have previous convictions for serious crimes.

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