Custody procedures & time

When a person is in custody the police have a legal duty to progress the investigation or process efficiently. The police work to a ‘detention clock’ which starts once a person arrives in custody and the time in custody is subject to periodic reviews by a police Inspector - and in some cases a more senior officer.

Nevertheless, the police equally have a duty to conduct an investigation thoroughly and such actions take time whether it’s gathering the evidence, speaking to witnesses, planning interviews and arranging suitable agencies to attend the station such as solicitors or appropriate adults. Additionally, any person arriving in an intoxicated state will lengthen the time in custody given, as they need to be sober and lucid before they can be formally dealt with.

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Arrival in custody

On arrival in custody the custody officer will be made aware of why the person has been arrested and decide if there are grounds to authorise detention. The process will involve initiating a custody record and recording the time of arrest, circumstances, time of arrival, grounds for detention, combined with obtaining information from the person detained. The document will also contain details of any search and property recorded, as well as a risk assessment asking a series of question concerning their health and wellbeing.

The document details the rights they are entitled to, when they were given and what action has been taken, for example, which solicitor has been contacted, their choice of letting relatives or friends know where they are and any other aspect in relation to the person detained as an assessment of their needs in custody.

The document will continue to be updated and evolve whilst the person is in custody covering any actions, interviews, assessments, subsequent authorities, food or drinks supplied and welfare checks. A solicitor or appropriate adult is entitled to look at a custody record in connection with a person in custody.

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Reasons for detaining people

Generally, people are detained in connection with an offence where it is necessary to secure and preserve evidence as part of the investigation (i.e. prevent evidence being lost, destroyed or concealed) and to obtain such evidence or explanation through formal interview. This step represents the duty the police have in relation to investigating offences for the victim, the community and public it serves.

Sometimes people may be arrested to prevent a breach of the peace which is a power under ‘Common Law’ developed historically through the courts. This power is used to prevent unlawful violence (or potential violence) against people or property and is not a criminal offence in itself but people may be placed before court to be bound over to be of good behaviour.

Usually any evidence of violence, damage or harm would be dealt with through normal criminal process but sometimes the power to prevent a breach of the peace may be used to prevent anything more serious happening and the circumstances do not merit a criminal course of action, for example where a person damages their own property whilst drunk. Where the grounds exist, this can be achieved by removing someone from an incident to another location or if necessary keeping them in police custody until there’s no further likelihood of a breach of the peace, for example once they are calmer or sober if alcohol was involved.

Some matters can involve different legislation, detention processes and time. Examples include investigations under Terrorism Act, immigration, a court warrant, detention on behalf of another police service or agency and any formal assessment under the Mental Health Act.

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The searching of people in custody

The police have a duty to establish what a person has with them on arrival at custody and this will involve the person being searched. There is a legal authority to search people and it forms part of a duty of care. More information is available in the Records, Samples & Searches section.

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Police cells

If the person will be detained at the unit, they will be in a room by themselves called a cell or detention room, providing security and privacy from anyone else in the custody unit while matters are progressed. They are maintained in a clean condition with somewhere to sit and sleep along with toilet facilities and drinking water. Whilst in a cell they will be checked periodically by staff and if there are any concerns they may be placed in a room where they can be monitored.

Clean blankets, sanitary items and the facility to wash are available to people in custody as required. There’s also a facility to go outside to a contained exercise yard for some fresh air.

Each room has a call button which is checked regularly, where an occupant can summon attention or assistance.

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How detained persons are looked after in custody

There are laws governing how a person is treated in custody which include the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its associated Codes of Practice, The Human Rights Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994. Notwithstanding this legal duty, people are treated fairly and in a reasonable manner with due dignity where the police will release them as soon as the need for the person to be detained no longer applies.

The detained person has rights and entitlements whilst in custody which include:

  • free legal advice
  • having someone informed where they are
  • to look at the rules that govern police procedures (Codes of Practice)
  • to see a medical professional

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Females in custody

Fair and equal outcomes require consideration with due sensitivity given the difference in people’s lives can have very different social and personal consequences. This does not mean one person is treated ‘better’ than another but individual circumstances are taken into account, in particular vulnerabilities and risks.

For example, there may be complex consequences with education, employment, income and family if imprisonment is a likely event to a person as a result of an investigation. This was highlighted as a particular area of concern regarding women in the Criminal Justice System by the Corston Report (2007) which stipulated the need for a different and distinct approach for females in custody.

Therefore, when females are in police custody particular consideration is given to:

  • Physical, medical and welfare needs
  • Access to a female member of staff
  • Conditions of privacy and dignity e.g. with any searches
  • Suitable clean replacement clothing
  • Child or dependent welfare issues especially lone parents or foreign nationals
  • The impact of separation from a baby or infant
  • Pregnancy whether known or potential requiring additional considerations
  • Psychological health
  • Risk of self-harm
  • Drug or alcohol problems
  • Any background of domestic violence or sexual abuse suffered
  • Potential exploitation by others where they are forced or influenced to do something for the benefit of someone else

In addition to the services available in custody such as contact with a medical professional, referral can be made to other agencies within and outside the police.

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Fingerprints, DNA and photographs

The police take fingerprints impressions, a DNA sample and a photograph of persons in custody arrested for a recordable offence. These samples are referred to as ‘biometrics’. There is a legal authority to take these samples without consent and it forms part of a national process in England and Wales to record and identify people involved in offences.

Further information is available under Records, Samples & Searches.

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A formal interview is the questioning of a person regarding their involvement or suspected involvement in a criminal offence where it is necessary to caution (warn or remind) the individual of their right of silence where the following words are used:

You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

The majority of interviews are conducted where it is recorded electronically on to an audio disc or tape and some offences may involve a visual recording of the interview.

An interview seeks to obtain information as well as evidence to establish what has happened and give the person an opportunity to give an account or explanation. Even though a person may choose not to answer, a police officer still has the right to ask any questions and continue with an interview as part of the investigation.

Free legal independent legal advice is available to people in custody and only a few exceptions apply, as described in the Entitlements & Rights section.

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The time a person can be held in custody

All persons in custody must be dealt with promptly and efficiently and released as soon as the need for detention no longer applies. The reasons to keep a person in custody is associated with the duty the police have in conducting an investigation thoroughly and such actions take time whether it’s gathering the evidence, speaking to witnesses, planning interviews and arranging suitable agencies to attend the station such as solicitors or appropriate adults.

A person's release may also be delayed due to their condition or behaviour which prevents the police in addressing tasks. An example is a person who is drunk and violent, where they need to sober up and calm down before they can be considered fit to be interviewed.

The time a person can be held in custody without being formally accused of an offence to be prosecuted (charged) is 24 hours. However, authority can be given by a senior police officer to keep a person detained for an additional 12 hours where the offence is indictable (an offence that could be heard at Crown Court). Any further detention beyond 36 hours can be authorised by magistrates, up to a maximum of 96 hours without being charged which relates to serious offences.

Matters under the Terrorism Act, immigration, a court warrant, detention on behalf of another police service or agency and any formal assessment under the Mental Health Act will involve different processes and duration in custody.

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People suspected to be an illegal immigrant

Failed asylum seekers or people having arrived or overstayed in the United Kingdom illegally may be detained in police custody pending an investigation by HMI Immigration Compliance & Enforcement. They will take responsibility for any continued detention authority and possible removal from the United Kingdom.

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When people leave custody

A person released from custody will be permitted to use the phone to contact family or friends. They may also choose to leave and make their own arrangements such as getting a taxi or using public transport without letting anyone know.

Where appropriate, on release from custody an assessment is made of a particular individual’s vulnerability and potential social care or mental health needs with appropriate referral to agencies or services. As part of such an assessment, where necessary the police will assist the person in getting home safely.

If there are any concerns regarding the release of a person, for example concerning victims or witnesses, where appropriate the police officers involved in the investigation would update people along with any necessary risk management strategy. Therefore any risk or concerns need to be made to the investigating officer dealing or their supervisors through the police control room on 101.

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Documentation on leaving custody

When a person leaves custody they are provided with documents such as charge or bail sheets (if applicable) which contain important information such as any dates to attend the police station again or be at court.

If there are any concerns where a detainee may benefit from support, they are provided with an information leaflet with contact details for other agencies, such as Arch Initiatives who visit the custody unit supporting people whose lives are affected by drugs and alcohol.

All persons who have been held in police detention are entitled to a copy of their custody record after they have been released, and if requested this will be provided as soon as practicable. Any solicitor or appropriate adult involved with the person at the time is also entitled to have a copy. This entitlement lasts for 12 months since the date of release.

Please see the Help & Support section for additional information.

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Seeking an update for an investigation

The custody unit will not discuss aspects of any investigation. The relevant police officer involved in a particular enquiry needs to be contacted as they will have better information regarding current events and what to anticipate in the short to medium term.

Sometimes unavoidable delays occur, causing stages in an investigation to be delayed. Examples include waiting for forensic results, locating witnesses, CCTV evidence or decisions that may involve the Crown Prosecution Service.

We recognise this may cause frustration and anxiety for many people, be they victims, friends and family, witnesses or the person arrested along with their relatives. For a thorough investigation to unfold the process can take time and if it's a matter that will be heard at court, it is important to maximise the probability of a successful outcome.

If there’s any developing risk or concerns as a result of delays where people are experiencing problems, the investigating officer needs to be informed. Any immediate risk to people or property needs to be reported to the police control room on 101 and if an emergency via 999.

However, should you be dissatisfied with a particular aspect of an investigation including difficulty obtaining an update or contact with the relevant officer, contact the control room for a message to be sent to their supervisor or alternatively please go to the section with regards to making a complaint.

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Appearing at court

After being charged, a person will normally be bailed to appear at a court and provided with documents in relation to the offence, court location, date and time. A person 18 years or older will appear at a Magistrates court for all offences (first hearing) and more serious matters are likely to progress to a Crown Court. First hearing involving people under 18 years are normally at a Youth Court.

Sometimes, people detained in custody and charged are not given bail and will be kept until they can appear at the next available court, normally within 24 hours (except Sunday and Christmas Day). They are normally taken to court by an agency but occasionally the police will conduct this task. Further information is available in the Bail section.

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Source: North Wales Police

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