A core part of our practice involves representing individuals, normally professionals of good character, who have been asked by the police to attend voluntary interviews under caution.
This briefing note analyses why the number of voluntary interviews conducted by the police in recent years has increased dramatically.
For those asked to submit themselves to police questioning, a voluntary interview is the best of the options available. Where the police believe they have sufficient grounds to question a suspect they can proceed in one of two ways i.e. either by arresting the suspect and conducting an interview under PACE 1984 or inviting a suspect to attend a voluntary interview.
A voluntary attendance is always our preferred option because it will mean that no formal record of an individual's arrest will be created. Where an individual is arrested, and even if no criminal proceedings or disposal follows, problems can arise in the future. Details of an arrest often have to be disclosed on certain visa application forms for example. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) also requires applicants for a financial services licence to disclose if they have ever been arrested. A volunteer who has been asked to attend a police station to be interviewed can properly answer any such enquiry in the negative.
The number of voluntary interviews has been rising in recent years as they are viewed by the police as cost effective alternatives to taking suspects into custody. The police are likely to make even greater use of this procedure if planned changes to the law take effect.
Proposals to limit the time suspects can spend on bail in police investigations – see our earlier post here – are currently before Parliament in the form of the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill. It proposes limiting the length of time a suspect can remain on bail before charge to 28 days. This can be extended to 3 months on application by a senior police officer.
We have previously expressed our concerns at the possible impact of such legislation. To get around these time limits, it is anticipated that the police will interview suspects and then release them without bail whilst an investigation continues. There will be no formal obligation on them to return at a specific time to a police station.
Not knowing when the investigation will end, but aware that an enquiry is ongoing, will place suspects in a deeply unsatisfactory position. The law reform group Justice has commented that these proposals, may cause
"significant worry and uncertainty for both suspects and victims, which can be unfair, unreasonable and very hard to bear. Suspects may be treated as "guilty by association" by the public.”
Justice has made recommendations which we in this practice support.
First, Justice has suggested a 12 month limit on the time span of any police investigation, extendable further only after an internal review by an independent officer of at least the rank of a Detective Superintendent.
Furthermore, after the 12 month time period has expired, Justice has called for suspects to have the right to apply to a court for the investigation to be discontinued.
We shall report further on the progress of this legislation in due course.