What is a voluntary interview?
A voluntary interview is an increasingly common method for police to use when investigating criminal allegations. They are also referred to as ‘stand-alone’ interviews. Such interviews are routinely now used for the whole spectrum of criminal offences.
Attending the police station as a volunteer means that you are not under arrest. The investigating officer will usually arrange the appointment directly with the suspect. When suspects attend the police station, they are not formally detained and held in formal police detention in a cell but are instead interviewed relatively quickly outside the confines of the custody suite.
Do I have the right to be represented by a lawyer?
Yes, an absolute right. The police should always advise a suspect that they have the right to free and independent legal advice.
Can I choose my own solicitor for the voluntary interview?
Yes. A suspect has the right to request the duty solicitor or to choose their own solicitor. If using the duty solicitor, the police will arrange for them to attend on the day of the interview. Or the suspect can make their own arrangements to be represented by a lawyer of their choice. If the police give the impression that the only option is to be represented by the duty solicitor, then that is incorrect advice.
Do I need to be represented by a lawyer?
Would you perform your own medical operation? Representation at the police station for a voluntary interview is free, so why wouldn’t you be represented by a lawyer?
We are often asked whether it is necessary to have a solicitor during interview. One reason for this is that the police give the impression that the interview is to be quite informal. The implication is that it won’t take long and ‘there is nothing to worry about.’ The police should never say this. The fact is that, attending an interview as a voluntary attender still means that you are under suspicion of committing a criminal act or series of acts. The police won’t encourage to you have a lawyer, but equally they should not in any way try to discourage you.
The interview procedure
The interview procedure, and the consequences of the interview, are exactly the same as if the interview had taken place during a period of police detention having been formally arrested and detained. There is just one difference between a voluntary interview and an interview during a period of detention. In a voluntary interview, the suspect is free to leave at any time. In reality, anyone who tries to leave the police station during an interview would most likely find themselves arrested and detained. A suspect required to attend for a voluntary interview, will always be impressed by an officer suggesting that there is nothing to worry about. This is particularly the case if they have no experience of being questioned by the police previously. The suspect gains a false sense security about the whole situation. They are likely to misinterpret any officer’s comments about how the case might end. Worse, they may have a false hope that the case will simply go away.
Voluntary interviews are still under caution and can and do often result in criminal proceedings being commenced. Wells Burcombe Solicitors strongly advise instructing a lawyer as early as possible. This will give you a better prospect of avoiding being charged and having to go to court.
Advantages of having solicitor representation
There is every advantage of having a solicitor present with you during any police interview under caution. With voluntary interviews, investigating officers usually provide disclosure to the lawyer in advance of the interview. This gives an opportunity for the suspect and his or her lawyer to meet. They can discuss the case and plan how to approach the interview. Suspects who attend without a lawyer will invariably enter the interview room without knowing the full nature and extend of the allegations(s) and will not be prepared for questioning. This can result in the suspect saying things he or she didn’t mean just because they felt under pressure during interview. Once this happens, it can be very difficult to reverse any damage or try to explain why something was or was not said. Moreover, the suspect can very often begin to experience a different side to the investigating officer who appeared to be so nice and calming initially.
Voluntary interviews are usually arranged days or weeks in advance of the interview itself. This gives a suspect the opportunity to do their own research and to instruct the lawyer of their choice. You can do this by privately paying them or it can be funded through legal aid. It gives the suspect the opportunity to speak with the lawyer who will attend the interview. They can answer any questions about the procedure, the evidence or anything else of concern. In some cases, the preparation before interview can have a real and positive impact on the direction of the proceedings and help avoid criminal prosecution.
Do I need to pay for a lawyer?
Representation at the police station for any formal interview under caution is free. This is regardless of means or assets.
Can Wells Burcombe help me?
If you have been asked to attend a voluntary interview, please get in touch. Likewise, if you have already been interviewed, with or without a lawyer, and you require some additional advice, simply call for some advice.
Contact David Wells direct on 07939 026751, or call the Wells Burcombe offices in St Albans, Hertfordshire on 01727 840900 or West Drayton, London on 01895 449288, or email us via our contact page.