The landscape is changing for the police, and their use of voluntary interviews for suspects as an alternative to interviewing suspects after arrest is reflective of that.
An amended Code C of PACE comes into force tomorrow, Tuesday 31st July 2018. Amongst other things, the new version highlights the importance of the suspect being provided with their rights, entitlements, safeguards and the procedure that is to be followed during the voluntary interview process. It introduces a new section headed; ‘Information to be given when arranging a voluntary interview’. The police must now provide certain information when the voluntary interview is arranged and not just when the person attends for interview.
The reason for the amendment is to take into account concerns raised that some suspects might not realise that a voluntary interview is just as significant as an interview after arrest, even if the voluntary interview takes place at the suspect’s home rather than at a police station.
On arranging the voluntary interview, the suspect must not be asked to give their informed consent to be interviewed until after they have been informed of their rights, entitlements and safeguards and must be given a notice explaining those matters.
One of those rights is that the suspect needs to be provided with sufficient information of the offence about which they are to be questioned to enable the suspect to understand the nature of any such offence(s) and why they are suspected of committing it.
This is known as disclosure and is something that legal representatives will ask the interviewer to provide, prior to an interview taking place after arrest or on a voluntary basis.
An unrepresented suspect has always been entitled to the same level of disclosure but will very rarely ask for it because they simply do not know they have the right to this level of disclosure. The amended Code C highlights that this information is to be made available to the suspect, irrespective of the suspect’s decision to engage a legal advisor.
Furthermore, disclosure can be provided before the suspect attends for interview if in so doing, the criminal investigation would not be prejudiced.
Voluntary interviews are, as any interview under caution is, nerve racking for any suspect. The facility to obtain disclosure and legal advice/assistance in relation to that disclosure before the suspect even attends the police station cannot be underestimated. Not only does this minimise the time the suspect will then have to spend in the police station, but means the suspect can consider their position carefully at a venue other than the police station before participating in the interview process.
The amended Code C also reminds the interviewer that not only do they have an obligation to explain to the suspect that the time and place of the interview can be delayed until they have received legal advice and assistance, but also that the interviewer when explaining the right to legal advice and the arrangements, must take care not to indicate, except to answer a direct question, that the time taken to arrange and complete the voluntary interview might be reduced if the suspect does not ask for legal advice or does not want a solicitor present when they are interviewed.
It is not open to the interviewing officer to simply threaten the suspect with arrest if the suspect requests the interview to take place on a time and date when their nominated solicitor is available.
The new Code C will hopefully formalise the police approach to voluntary interviews for the benefit of all. We will continue to be available to offer legal advice and assistance for anyone who is requested to attend a voluntary interview. To discuss your situation, please contact a member of our Crime & Regulatory team on 01908 202150 or email firstname.lastname@example.org