Help and Advice

The Crime and Law section includes information on how to stay safe and advice on how to do if you're a victim of crime.

You can be arrested by the police if they have a valid arrest warrant or:

  • If you are in the act of committing certain offences or are about to commit certain offences
  • If they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that you are committing, have committed or are about to commit certain offences.

The police should only use reasonable force to make an arrest and should inform you that you are under arrest as soon as possible. After the arrest, you should be told why you have been arrested. You must be cautioned as soon as it is practical to do so, as follows:

"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."

They must ensure that you understand this disclosure. This means:

  • The interview will be recorded and can be used as evidence against you in court
  • You may remain silent or refuse to answer questions
  • Your refusal to answer may be used taken into account and used against you if the offence goes to court.

If you are arrested somewhere other than at a police station, you should be taken to a police station as soon as possible. Once you are at the police station, you should be informed of your rights, which are:

  • Your right to inform someone of your arrest
  • Your right to legal advice (from a solicitor, who can advise you on what is happening, explain legal terms, speak on your behalf and present your defence. Access to a solicitor from a police station is free, regardless of your financial circumstances and more information about your rights can be found on the Ministry of Justice website
  • Your right to see the police codes of practice

You do not need to use these rights immediately, they can be exercised any time you are detained. You do not have to speak to the police until your solicitor is present. The right to legal advice can be delayed in very serious cases. The right to inform somebody of your arrest can be delayed in certain circumstances, for example if an officer of the rank of superintendent or above believes somebody being told about your arrest could lead to interference with evidence.

You should not be detained in police custody for longer than 24 hours without being charged, unless an officer with the rank of superintendent (or above) or a magistrate gives permission. If you are suspected of any offence other than terrorism, the maximum you may be detained in police custody is 96 hours. If you are arrested on suspicion of terrorism, a judge can authorise continued detention for up to 28 days.

If you are charged with the offence, then you must appear before a magistrates’ court. The police have to decide whether you can be released on bail, or whether you must remain in custody until your court hearing. In England and Wales, a person is innocent until proven guilty, and so you should not be kept in custody before trial unless there are good reasons for doing so.

Being arrested if you have learning difficulties

If you have learning difficulties, the police should only interview you when a responsible person is present, unless delay would result in a risk of injury or harm to property or people. You should be accompanied at interview by:

  • A relative or other person responsible for your care
  • Somebody experienced in dealing with people with people with learning difficulties who is not employed by the police
  • Some other responsible adult who isn’t employed by the police
Being arrested if you are not a UK national

If you are from abroad, you have the right to tell your High Commission, embassy or consulate your whereabouts.

Being arrested if your first language is not English

If you have difficulty understanding English and the interviewing officer cannot speak your language, you should be provided with an interpreter. The police must not interview you until the interpreter is present unless a delay would mean an immediate risk of harm to someone or serious loss of or damage to property.

Being arrested if you have hearing or speech difficulties

If you have hearing or speech difficulties, the police should offer you an interpreter. They should not question you until the interpreter is present unless a delay would mean an immediate risk of harm to someone or serious loss of or damage to property, or unless you agree in writing to be interviewed without one.

Find out more information on the website for NI Direct Government Services

Being detained under the Mental Health Act 1983

Under secton 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, the police can remove you from a public place to a 'place of safety' if they believe you are mentally ill and are in urgent need of care or control to protect yourself or others from harm.

A place of safety could be a hospital or a police station, where you will be assessed by a doctor and interviewed by a mental health professional, who is specially trained in both mental health and the law relating to it. The maximum time you can be detained is 72 hours, by which time, any necessary arrangements for your treatment and care should be made.

If detained, you have the right to:

  • have a person of your choice informed of your whereabouts
  • access to legal advice
  • medical treatment from an appropriate healthcare professional if required
  • the support of an 'appropriate adult' - any person independent of the police and experienced in dealing with mental health problems, e.g. a relative, or somebody responsible for your care. You should not be interviewed without one, unless delay would result in a risk of harm to people or property.
Being arrested on suspicion of terrorism

Under the Terrorism Act 2006, if you are arrested under suspicion of terrorism you can be detained at a police station for up to 28 days (although periods of more than 2 days must be approved by a judicial authority). Your rights to access to a solicitor and to have somebody informed of your arrest can be delayed for 48 hours, and delays can be obtained more easily than for other offences.

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