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Rights in police custody

Being held in custody can be a traumatic and scary experience for the person being detained. It is therefore vitally important to know what your rights are when you are being held.  

Click here to speak to one of our criminal defence lawyers. 

Detention Periods and Conditions 

Once a person has been arrested, they can be held for up to 24 hours before they are either charged or released. This period starts the moment the detainee arrives at the police station. This can be extended under specific circumstances to 36 or 96 hours if you have been accused of a very serious crime, such as murder.  

A 36-hour detention is permitted for offences that are serious enough to be heard in a Crown Court and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the original grounds for detention exist and the investigation is being conducted diligently and expeditiously. This extension can be granted by either a Police Superintendent or the courts.  

It is only possible to extend the detention to 96-hour where there is an application to a magistrate to maintain the detention.  

Review of Detention 

Your detention will be reviewed periodically by an Inspector rank or higher. This starts when detention is authorised, as opposed to your arrival time.  

The first review will be after six hours and thereafter every nine hours. However, a person in detention should be visited at least every hour to ensure there are regular checks on their welfare. 

Keeping you informed 

The police must inform the detainee about issues such as: 

  • What offence they are suspected of committing 

  • Why they need to be detained 

  • Of the information needed so that the detainee can defend themselves (so long as this does not harm the investigation) 


The conditions in which you are kept must also be appropriate: 

  • If possible, the detainee should be the only one in the cell 

  • The cell must be adequately heated, clean and ventilated 

  • Bedding, toilet and washing facilities should be provided 

  • Adequate replacement clothing should be provided if the detainees own clothing has been taken  

  • Detainees must be offered three meals a day and drinks between meals 

  • If possible, the detainee should be allowed outside each day for fresh air 

  • The police will provide health, hygiene or welfare personal needs of the detainee, for example menstrual products 

  • Those with faith needs will be provided books or other items where necessary 

  • The detainee must be allowed to rest for eight hours in any 24 hours in custody  

Right to Free Legal Advice 

As a detainee, you have the right to privately consult with a solicitor. This right can be delayed for a maximum of 36 hours (48 hours for suspected terrorism) by a superintendent if the offence is serious and there are reasonable grounds to believe that your consultation with a solicitor could hinder the investigation or affect the case. 

Should this delay take place, the detainee should be informed of delay. In reality, like this is rare because it is hard to justify, and any evidence obtained from the suspect without legal advice could be jeopardised.  

Right to inform someone of your arrest 

A detainee is entitled to tell one person that they have been arrested and are being held by the police. This can be a friend or relative. 

The police are entitled to delay this for a max of 36 hours only if it is a serious offence and an inspector authorises it. An inspector will only do so if there are reasonable ground to believe that informing someone of your arrest will:  

  • Interfere with evidence 

  • Harm others 

  • Alert other suspects 

  • Hinder the recovery of property 

The inspector will also have the right to authorise delay if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the detainee has benefitted from any criminal conduct.   

However, such a delay must be proportionate to the issues and should last no longer than necessary. The detainee must be informed about this delay. 

Assistance for those with extra needs 

If the detainee does not speak English, then the police will arrange for a free interpreter. Similarly, those that are deaf will have a British Sign Language interpreter provided to assist them. 

A detainee that is not British can ask their High Commission, Embassy or Consulate to be contacted so they know they are being held in a police station.  

Those aged under 18 years or that are vulnerable will be allowed to have an appropriate adult with them during certain situations while in custody to assist them and to protect their interests. 

Right to have medical help 

Should a detainee feel ill or have any injuries or medical conditions, they can receive medical help and should notify the police. It may be possible for them to have their own medicine if it has been checked by the police.  

Right to Consult Codes of Practice 

If a detainee feels their rights are not being considered, they have right to consult the Codes of Practice. However, this will only be granted if it does not delay the police investigation into the crime they have been arrested for. 



The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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