Increased use of the voluntary interview
Attending a police station for a voluntary interview under caution is now more commonly used than ever. Such interviews certainly have benefits for those who are required to attend because there is no formal arrest, embarrassing or awkward circumstances, and an appointment can be arranged at a time mutually convenient to all parties. Furthermore, there no prolonged period of detention once you get to the police station. Such as waiting for lawyers to arrive or for interviewing officers to be ready. There is also no lengthy wait in a police cell after interview waiting for someone to make a decision as to what is going to happen.
The drawback is that for this type of interview, there is every chance that a suspect is going to be released under investigation which itself is a process of a somewhat controversial nature.
The police, when looking to invite a suspect in for interview, will usually make contact with a suspect direct. Anyone attending the police station for an interview under caution is entitled to free and independent legal advice, whether they have been arrested or are attending voluntarily. The police should advise of this important right when the first contact is made. If they do not and later look to rely upon anything a suspect says in interview, there is likely to be a challenge to the content of that interview. If the police do properly advise a suspect of this (or in the case of a juvenile under 18 then it is advice usually given to a mother or father or other appropriate adult) then they should also advise that a suspect can either have a lawyer of their own choice or use the services of a duty solicitor which the police will usually arrange on your behalf. Most criminal defence lawyers are duty solicitors but as with every profession, there are different levels in quality. This is something to be very alert to.
We would always advise choosing the option of instructing your own solicitor. Suspects, and their families if necessary, should take the time to research a lawyer local to you who is clearly experienced in criminal law. If the opportunity arises, a suspect should go and see his solicitor before interview. The solicitor should be able to make contact with the interviewing officer(s) and request some advance indication about the nature and extent of the allegation. This is an important part of the process. Discussing the various options open to you and the case in general before interview can really help. You can identify at an early stage the level and type of questioning you will face in interview. You can identify early if there are witnesses you would like either your solicitor or the police to go and see with a view to helping your case. The reality is that many suspects feel confident going in to interview with a police officer or a number of police officers but during the interview itself feel pressured and unable to cope as well as they thought. The interview stage is one of the most important in the criminal process.
We would always insist that a suspect attends a police interview under caution with a solicitor. The police may well suggest not to worry about a solicitor because 'you probably don't need one' but the reality is that you do. Representation at the police station is free, so why wouldn't you have a solicitor attend with you? The vast majority of police officers will be perfectly pleasant and social prior to interview but when the interview commences they have a job to do and any pleasantries fall away.
Voluntary interviews have their purpose but they are no different in content to any other formal interview under caution. They are undoubtedly becoming more and more common and on balance I do feel that they are a far better way of interviewing suspects than dragging someone into formal custody. But just because they are dealt with at a time and date which is convenient to all parties, the need for a lawyer is still just as important.