Rights on Arrest

The first thing to do is to ask the arresting officer WHY you are being arrested. You are entitled to know the reason for your arrest. Shout out your name so somebody knows you’ve been arrested.

You are then likely to be taken to a police station, where you will be taken before the Custody Officer. S/he will record your details & list your property, which will be taken from you. You will be asked to sign for this. Sign directly under the very last item on the list, so that items cannot be added later. Also DON’T sign for any items that are not yours.

The police seem to have a particular dislike for demonstrators, so they are likely to be prejudiced against you from the beginning. You have an ABSOLUTE RIGHT to the solicitor of your choice FREE OF CHARGE, whatever your income. Phone a solicitor, even for a minor offence. It shows the police you are not someone who they can take advantage of. You are allowed TWO phone calls – one to a solicitor and the other to inform a friend/relative of your whereabouts. USE BOTH CALLS. The police can only deny you them in extreme circumstances.

Once in the cells you are likely to have a fairly long wait. It will feel like you are there for ever. But, you will soon be out – so keep calm.

The police may decide to interview you – have your solicitor present. However, you may just be held until they decide whether to charge you with an offence or not. Or,they may offer you a caution – BE CAREFUL. You won’t have to go through the courts, BUT IT MEANS you are admitting guilt. Although the police may tell you different, this is recorded, but it is not a conviction.

If you are charged with a recordable offence (basically most imprisonable offences) the police can take your fingerprints. They have no special powers to take your photo, but they will normaly try and take one anyway. In certain circumstances they can ask for a non-intimate sample such as hair or saliva. Your solicitor will tell you if you can refuse or not. If you are injured or need medical attention, ask to see the police doctor.

At some point, you should normally be released on bail. The police can only refuse bail if a specified ground for refusal exists – eg. they have reason to believe you will fail to turn up at court. You will have been asked for your name and address (which they may check). If you do not give these, or they believe the address you give to be “insecure” (a tree house or maybe a squat) again they may refuse bail. The police can’t simply refuse bail because they do not like the look of you.

If you are refused bail at this stage, you will be taken before the Court the next weekday morning. If you have not already done so, get a solicitor now. The magistrates will reconsider bail and unfortunately they may be persuaded by a lawyer when they won’t listen to you.

More powers for the state: fewer rights for defendants

Following on the heels of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, 1996 will see the Criminal Procedure & Investigations Bill further undermine the rights of defendants facing criminal charges. Both Labour and Tory parties are supporting restrictions on the prosecution’s duty of “disclosure”, which requires them to pass on to defendants all material gathered by police in the course of their investigation.

This duty was fully established after it emerged in the Judith Ward case that the prosecution kept from the defence, evidence that could have led to her acquittal.

Under the new Bill, you will only be entitled to full disclosure if you reveal your defence – which allows the police to concentrate on disproving your innocence rather than proving your guilt. Failing to disclose your defence will also mean judges can infer guilt. A provision requiring defendants to give names and addresses of their witnesses has been dropped – we’ll probably have to wait until 1997 for that one.

Meanwhile, MI5 is to have new powers to bug and break into property to combat “serious crime”. There is no clear definition of a serious crime but in related legislation it includes conduct “by a large number of people in pursuit of a common purpose”. This could cover anything from the Salvation Army to car-boot sales but it will clearly be directed at the activities of political organisations and campaigns. Warrants for bugging and breaking into property will be given by politicians, not courts.


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