Custody

Here's what happens if you're arrested.

You can be arrested and taken into custody with or without a warrant.

A warrant for your arrest will be issued if you're suspected of committing a serious offence like murder, but the police can also take you into custody without a warrant to take fingerprints or if they have 'reasonable grounds' to suspect you've committed an offence.

The rules for use of powers such as custody are set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 (PACE). You can view detailed information on PACE and the accompanying codes on the archived Home Office website (new window)

What happens if I get taken into custody?

You'll be questioned, although this will have to be postponed if you're intoxicated. The interview will be taped - your lawyer can be there if you wish – and you're allowed regular breaks.

You can exercise your right to remain silent if you choose.

Fingerprints and other samples may then be taken. These can be taken without your consent and include:

  • fingerprints
  • oral swabs
  • saliva
  • footwear impressions
  • photos

In some cases other samples may be requested. These require your written consent and the consent of the inspector. However, refusal may harm your defence if you are brought to trial.

Examples include:

  • blood
  • urine
  • semen
  • dental impressions
  • pubic hair

Information from these samples will be stored in a database and may be used to identify you if you're arrested again.

What happens in custody if you're young or mentally vulnerable?

In the case of juveniles (under 17 years old) and mentally vulnerable people, an 'appropriate adult' must be present during questioning and searching to make sure the accused understands what’s happening. This might be their parent or guardian.

The appropriate adult is not allowed to provide legal advice and can't perform this role if the person in custody has confided in them about the offence. 

If there is no parent or guardian or social worker to act as an appropriate adult, the police may select an 'impartial adult' from a list of volunteers to perform the task.

Read the guidance for appropriate adults to find out more about this role.

What are your rights when you're in custody?

If you've been remanded in custody you have the right to:

  • legal representation - this is free
  • a phone call to inform someone that you've been arrested
  • food and exercise
  • a warm, clean cell with bedding
  • at least eight hours rest in every 24 hour period

For more information, you can consult the Codes of Practice under PACE, which set out the standards police cells must meet. These are available on the archived Home Office website (new window).

How soon can I be released?

You can't be kept at a police station for more than 24 hours without being charged, although this can be extended to 36 hours with the authority of a police superintendent, and longer with the authority of a magistrate.

The one exception is for arrests under the Terrorism Act, where you can be held without charge for up to seven days.

If there's not enough evidence to charge you, you'll be released on police bail. You don't have to pay to be released on police bail, but you'll have to return to the station for further questioning when asked.

If you're charged and the police think there's a risk that you may commit another offence, fail to turn up at court, intimidate other witnesses or obstruct the course of justice, they can impose conditional bail. This means your freedom will be restricted in some way. For example, a curfew may be imposed on you if your offence was committed at night.

If you've been charged with a serious offence, you may be refused release and remanded in custody until trial. If you are found guilty, the time spent in prison before trial will be deducted from your sentence.

Can I complain if I think I've been a victim of police misconduct?

If you believe you've been arrested and detained unlawfully or your rights have been abused, you can complain to:

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