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Guidance in Case of Arrest: for Activists and Change Advocates

7 min read

In the pursuit of social change, individuals may find themselves facing the prospect of arrest while participating in protests or community change campaigns. Understanding the legal aspects surrounding an arrest is crucial for activists and advocates. 

This guide aims to provide essential guidance for those who are passionate about making a difference and wish to engage in peaceful activism while being mindful of their rights and responsibilities when confronted with the possibility of arrest.

  • Stay calm and do not argue. Be polite. If people around you are getting upset or angry ask them to calm down. It rarely helps the situation. 
  • Give your personal details and do so truthfully. 
  • Ask in a polite manner, why you have been arrested. 
  • You have the right to be treated with respect and in a humane manner at all times. If the police are aggressive or seek to intimidate you take the police officer’s number. 

If you are arrested the police must:

  • identify themselves as the police.
  • tell you that you’re being arrested.
  • tell you what crime they think you’ve committed.
  • explain why it is necessary to arrest you.
  • explain that you’re not free to leave.

If you’re arrested, you’ll usually be taken to a police station, held in custody in a cell and then questioned.

After you’ve been taken to a police station, you may be released or charged with a crime. You may also be given a caution. 

At the initial stages of an arrest, we would advise you not to say anything until you have had the chance to get legal advice. 

The Custody Officer will ask you some questions about yourself and will complete a custody record and a risk assessment.

The custody officer at the police station must explain your rights. You have the right to:

  • get free legal advice.
  • tell someone where you are.
  • have medical help if you’re feeling ill.
  • see the rules the police must follow when they arrest you (‘Codes of Practice’)
  • see a written notice telling you about your rights, such as regular breaks for food and to use the toilet – you can ask for a notice in your language or an interpreter to explain the notice
  • Free interpreter or signer. 
  • You have a right to be treated with respect and in a humane manner. 
  • You have a right to speak to a custody officer who is responsible for your welfare whilst in custody. 

If they think that you are incapable of understanding the questions due to your mental health problem or other vulnerability they must:

After seeing the custody officer, you will be held in a cell or detention room. If you are considered to be vulnerable you should have frequent visits by the custody staff to check you are ok.

If you are not given any of the above rights, you should ask for this to be noted on your custody record.  

You’ll be searched and your possessions will be kept by the police custody officer while you’re in the cell.

The police must try to contact your parent, guardian or carer if you’re under 18 or a vulnerable adult.

They must also find an ‘appropriate adult’ to come to the station to help you and be present during questioning and searching. An appropriate adult can be:

  • your parent, guardian or carer
  • a social worker
  • another family member or friend aged 18 or over.
  • a volunteer aged 18 or over.

The National Appropriate Adult Network provides appropriate adult services in England and Wales

The police may question you about the crime you’re suspected of – this will be recorded. You do not have to answer the questions but there could be consequences if you do not. The police must explain this to you by reading you the police caution:

“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.”

Your lawyer will advise you as to what he feels is the best course of action for you to take. However, the final decision as to whether you give a no comment interview or an interview where you tell your side of the story. 

You may also be able to give to the police a pre-prepared statement which succinctly outlines your version of events and then give a no comment interview. 

Do not feel compelled to answer any questions you are not comfortable in answering. It is your right to not to have to answer any questions. 

The police can hold you for up to 24 hours before they have to charge you with a crime or release you.

They can apply to hold you for up to 36 or 96 hours if you’re suspected of a serious crime, such as murder.

You can be held without charge for up to 14 days If you’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.

The police can release you on police bail if there’s not enough evidence to charge you. You do not have to pay to be released on police bail, but you’ll have to return to the station for further questioning when asked.

You can be released on conditional bail if the police charge you and think that you may:

  • commit another offence.
  • fail to turn up at court.
  • intimidate other witnesses.
  • obstruct the course of justice.

This means your freedom will be restricted in some way. For example, they can impose a curfew on you if your offence was committed at night.

The police have the right to:

  • take photographs of you
  • take fingerprints.
  • take a DNA sample, such as from a mouth swab or head hair root.
  • swab the skin surface of your hands and arms.

They do not need your permission to do this.

The police need both your permission and the authority of a senior police officer to take samples like blood or urine, or to take dental impressions.

This does not apply when they take a blood or urine sample in connection with drink or drug driving.

Information from fingerprints and samples is stored in a police database.

You can find out if your information is stored on the police database by getting a copy of your police records from your local police station.

You have to write to your local police force to have your personal information removed from the police database.

They’ll only do this if either:

  • an offence no longer exists.
  • if anything in the police process was unlawful – for example, how you were arrested or detained.

You have the right to free legal advice (legal aid) if you’re questioned at a police station. You can change your mind later if you turn it down.

You must be told about your right to free legal advice after you’re arrested and before you’re questioned at a police station. You can:

  • ask for the police station’s ‘duty solicitor’ – they’re available 24 hours a day and independent of the police.
  • tell the police you would like legal advice – the police will contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC)
  • ask the police to contact a solicitor, such as your own one.

You may be offered legal advice over the phone instead of a duty solicitor if you’re suspected of having committed a less serious offence, such as being disorderly. The advice is free and independent of the police.

Once you’ve asked for legal advice, the police cannot question you until you’ve got it – with some exceptions.

The police can make you wait for legal advice in serious cases, but only if a senior officer agrees.

The longest you can be made to wait before getting legal advice is 36 hours after arriving at the police station (or 48 hours for suspected terrorism).

You have the right to free legal advice if you are questioned by the police.

Contact the police force you want to complain about if you’re unhappy about how the police have treated you.

Police forces must refer certain types of complaints to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Ref: https://www.gov.uk/arrested-your-rights

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