The term ‘voluntary attender’ at a police interview would ideally mean that one is attending the interview of one’s own free will. But criminal law solicitors across the country are reporting a trend of the police arranging for ‘voluntary’ interviews with suspects at the police station. As per the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, a person who attends a police station, or any other law enforcement office, for the purpose of assisting a criminal investigation is referred to as a ‘voluntary attender’.
An increasingly common practice in of the police calling up someone or knocking on their door asking them to come over to the police station for an informal chat. Even though the call has you utterly distressed, do not make the mistake of not asking for a criminal defence solicitor to advise you. When the police start questioning someone about an incident or a suspect, there are 2 likely scenarios. Either you are a suspect, or the police think you have some information which could shed light on the suspect. In either case, you should not say anything before consulting with your criminal defence solicitors. While it may be an informal interview, anything you say can be used against someone (including you) at a later date.
Any person being interviewed by the police has to be cautioned by the Police Officer that “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.” Criminal defence solicitors mention that the call to come to the police station is often so unnerving for the person concerned that even though they are informed by the police of their not being under arrest or under any obligation to remain at the police station, the ‘voluntary attender’ is easily taken in by the Police officer saying something like ‘we just want to hear your side of the story’ or ‘we have to be neutral, it’s part of our job’. As you start to relax, the officer might advise you of your right to consult a criminal defence solicitor, but also tell you that “it could take time and you’ll be here all day”. Do not hesitate to still ask for legal advice. Quite so often a skilled interviewer can get suspects to admit something in an interview of which they had no prior evidence.
Even if the call is for a voluntary interview, you do have the right to free and independent legal advice. And if you decide to go ahead with the said interview, make sure you are accompanied by a skilled criminal defence solicitor who can stop you from incriminating yourself.