Police stations - what happens when you are arrested
This section looks at what happens at the police station when the police think you have committed a crime. This section may help you if you, or someone you know, has been arrested.
- You can be taken to the police station because the police arrest you for committing a crime.
- The police can also take you to the police station as a place of safety if they are worried about your mental health.
- Everyone who has been arrested has three basic rights. You can get free legal advice, ask the police to let someone know you have been arrested and look at the police Codes of Practice.
- If you are vulnerable, you should have an appropriate adult with you at the police station to help you understand what is going on.
- If you have mental health problems, the police should deal with this sensitively. They should get you an appropriate adult. And ask a medical professional to see you.
Why might I be taken to the police station?
You might be taken to the police station if police think you have committed a crime.
You can sometimes be taken to the police station under section 135 or section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
This page looks at what happens when the police arrest you and hold you at the police station because they think you committed a crime.
You can find more information about:
What are a person’s rights when arrested?
If the police arrest you, you have the right to:
- get free legal advice,
- ask the police to tell someone you have been arrested, and
- look at the Codes of Practice. This is a book about what the police can do and how they should do things.
If you are vulnerable because of a mental illness, you have the right to have an appropriate adult. An appropriate adult can be a family member or friend. But there are professionals who work in police stations as appropriate adults.
An appropriate adult is there to help you communicate with the police and understand what is going on.
You can find more information about ‘Appropriate adult’ by clicking here.
Staff & involved others
Who might be involved?
If the police think you have committed a crime and keep you at the police station, you might come across a few different people. Below are some people you may hear about or meet.
Police officers have different ranks depending on how much experience they have. You may come across police constables, sergeants, inspectors or superintendents at the police station.
Each officer will wear a badge on the shoulder of their uniform that shows their rank. They all have a unique number, for example, PC 1234 (police constable), PS 1234 (police sergeant).
It can help to know which police officers have been involved in your case if you need to contact them in the future. If the officer doesn’t wear a uniform, you can ask to see their warrant card for their details.
The custody sergeant allows someone to be held at the police station. They will tell you why you have been arrested and why you’re being held at the station. They will:
- tell you your rights,
- decide if you are vulnerable because of your mental health, or
- need an appropriate adult.
The custody sergeant is responsible for all the people in the cells of the police station.
A legal adviser
This is someone who is trained to advise you if the police think you have committed a crime. Some of them can prepare your case if you have to go to court. They may be a solicitor, or someone authorised by the Legal Aid Agency to give you advice.
If the police arrest you because they think you have committed a crime you have the right to speak to a legal adviser.
You can use the police station duty solicitor scheme if you can’t arrange your own legal representative.
You can speak to a legal adviser in person, in writing or on the telephone. Their advice is free, and they are independent of the police.
You may want to use your own solicitor. You can do this, but you will probably have to pay for their advice.
A family member, friend or, more often, a volunteer or care worker can be an appropriate adult.
Most police stations will have professional appropriate adults that work with people who are arrested there. They are not part of the police.
People with mental health problems who have been arrested should have an appropriate adult present at the police station.
The police should call an appropriate adult who can look after your interests.
Health care professional (HCP)
This is someone who is a medical practitioner like a nurse or paramedic. Most police forces have HCP’s, but some have forensic medical examiners (FME’s). FME’s are doctors.
The police can ask an HCP to see you if you need medical care. For example, if you:
- appear to have a physical illness,
- are injured,
- appear to have a mental illness,
- appear to need medical help, or
- are suffering the effects of alcohol or drugs.
You can ask to see an HCP for a medical examination. You can also choose to be examined by a medical practitioner that you know. But you may have to pay for this. It can take a long time to organise seeing your choice of medical practitioner. Especially if you are arrested at night.
The HCP can decide if you’re well enough for the police to interview you or keep you at the station. They can arrange a Mental Health Act assessment if they think this is needed.
If your legal representative is worried about your mental health, they can ask the HCP about a mental health assessment. You need to give your legal representative permission to do this.
Social worker or community psychiatric nurse
If you have been in contact with the police before they may know about your mental illness. If so, they could contact your social worker, community psychiatric nurse or care co-ordinator.
You can tell the police to contact a mental health professional that supports you. They can be your appropriate adult if you feel comfortable with them.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
The CPS is a government department that prosecutes criminal cases. The police will discuss their investigation with them. They will decide if your case should go to court. They prepare and present cases in court. They aim to prove you are guilty.
You can find more information about:
What is the process of being arrested and held at the police station?
- Arriving at the police station
- Searching and taking samples
- Meeting the legal adviser and appropriate adult
- After the interview
- Decision to prosecute
- After 24 hours at the police station
Someone may have told the police that there has been a crime or think one is about to happen. The role of the police is to investigate. When the police arrest you, they will read the caution to you and, usually, take you to a police station.
The caution is:
“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention now something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
This means you do not have to answer questions if you don’t want to. If you do give answers the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may use what you say as evidence in your court case.
The police may ask you a question you didn’t answer during the interview. If you give the answer to the question in court without telling the police, it may damage your case.
The judge, jury or magistrates may wonder why you didn’t give this answer when the police interviewed you. They may feel you only thought of the answer after the police interviewed you. They might find it harder to believe if you only say it for the first time in court.
A magistrate is also known as a Justice of the Peace. They are trained, unpaid members of their local community. They deal with less serious criminal cases.
Arriving at the police station
The custody sergeant will meet you at reception. They will check your name, address and date of birth. They will ask you questions about your health and if you are a risk to yourself.
The custody sergeant will check any belongings you have with you. You may have to give them things like your mobile phone and money. They will put these in an envelope or bag, seal it and make a note of it. The custody officer has to keep this safe. They should give your things back to you, unless they are part of the case you are involved in.
If you have medication on you, the custody sergeant should get a health care professional (HCP) to check it. They should make sure you can take your medication while you are at the station.
The police have the right to take photographs of you.
The custody sergeant should make sure that you understand your rights. They should also assess whether you are a ‘vulnerable person’ and need an appropriate adult. Or help from a healthcare professional.
They will also ask you if you want legal advice. Even if you decide not to have legal advice at first, you can change your mind. You can ask for a legal adviser at any time when at the police station.
You can ask the custody sergeant to tell someone you have been arrested. This could be a carer, family member, friend, healthcare or social care professional such as your social worker.
Searching and taking samples
The police may want to search you if they think you might be hiding something. There are different searches that the police can do. The police may ask you to remove some, or all, of your clothing. But they must always make reasonable efforts to get you to hand over the item without being strip searched.
There are specific procedures that the police must follow if they want you to remove some, or all, of your clothing. These include:
- there must be at 2 people with you during the search,
- these people should be the same sex as you,
- your appropriate adult should be with you, and
- the search must be done with dignity and sensitivity.
Your appropriate adult should be there when the police need to take your fingerprints, DNA samples or photograph you.
The appropriate adult should be there when you sign anything to make sure you understand
- what is going on, and
- what you are agreeing to.
Meeting the legal adviser and appropriate adult
You have the right to see your legal adviser in private.
The information that you give to your legal adviser is confidential. This means that your legal adviser can’t be asked to give evidence against you. If you tell anyone else, including your appropriate adult, they could be asked to give evidence against you in court.
If you agree, your legal representative can share information with your appropriate adult and the police. But most of the time your meetings with the legal representative are confidential. This means the representative will not tell anyone else what you have spoken about, unless you say they can.
Your appropriate adult does not have to know what you and your legal adviser talked about. You should not tell them anything you don’t want them to know.
The interview is when the police ask you about if and how you were involved in a crime.
It is important to know that if the police are questioning you it doesn’t mean they have charged you yet. The interview is your chance to give your version of events.
At the interview, as well as the police officers, there should be you, your legal adviser if you asked for one, and an appropriate adult.
Interview rooms can be small. But it should be comfortable enough for everyone to sit around a table. The police will usually record the interview on a tape recorder.
At the start of the interview, a police officer will say where the interview is taking place and the date and time the interview started.
The police should caution you again on tape and ask if you understand what this means.
The police officer starting the interview will say who is in the room. They will also ask each person to say their name and what they are doing there. You will need to identify yourself when asked to do so.
The police will be trying to understand your version of events. The police officers may ask detailed questions about the crime or may just ask general questions. For example, they may ask you where you were or what you were doing at a certain time.
The police may show you evidence during the interview, such as CCTV records or an item such as clothing or a weapon.
During the interview the police should not be argumentative in the way they ask questions or in their body language. The appropriate adult or solicitor can speak up during the interview. They can do this if they feel the police are being intimidating or if they feel you are becoming distressed.
Regular meal and refreshment breaks should be allowed during the interview.
At the end of the interview, the police officer will remove the tape from the tape recorder and seal it in a tape box with a sticker. They will ask everyone there to sign the sealed tape. This shows that everyone agrees that the tape was of your interview. And,that the tape has not been tampered with.
The police may then give you or your legal representative a copy. If they do not, you or your legal representative can ask for it later if you have to go to court.
After the interview
After the interview you will need to stay in a cell while the CPS and police decide what to do. We look at what could happen afterwards in the next section of this page.
When you are held in a police station, the police have to regularly review whether you still need to be there.
If the police do not have enough evidence to keep you in custody, then they should let you go. If the police need time to get evidence, they can keep you in the station for longer.
There are rules about when the police should review if you still need to be kept at the police station.
- The first review must be no later than 6 hours after you were first held at the police station.
- The second review must be no later than 9 hours after the first review.
- After the second review, they should review it every 9 hours. They may review it more quickly than this.
The time begins when you first arrive at the police station. If the police take you to hospital, the clock stops. It then starts again when you are taken back to the police station.
If the police question you in hospital, this counts as time in custody and should be included in the review times.
The police should record their reviews on your custody record, which your appropriate adult and legal representative can look at and check.
Decision to prosecute
If the police accuse you of a minor crime, they may decide not to charge you. A minor crime might be shoplifting something that isn’t expensive or littering.
If the crime is serious, or you have been arrested for it before, the police could pass the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will decide whether to prosecute you.
After 24 hours at the police station
The police should not keep you in the station for more than 24 hours without charging you.
A senior police officer of superintendent rank or above, can decide that you need to be kept in the police station for longer than 24 hours. This may happen if the police need to find, or protect evidence, in relation to a serious crime.
If you have been identified as a vulnerable person, the police might not be able to keep you at the station for more than 24 hours. The police should think about options other than keeping you at the police station. The police should speak to your legal adviser and appropriate adult, of they are available. They will be able to tell the police their views on whether you should stay at the police station any longer.
A magistrates’ court can allow the police to hold you for longer. But not for more than four days. The police will need to give magistrates information about your case before allowing them to hold you for longer. You can ask to see this information.
Dealing with mental health
How do the police deal with people with mental health problems?
The police or the custody sergeant may be concerned that you are mentally vulnerable. If you agree your legal adviser, friend or relative could tell the police you have mental health issues. If so, they should get an appropriate adult for you as soon as possible.
What does ‘mentally vulnerable’ mean?
The police may think you are vulnerable if they believe that you will not understand what they say to you because of your mental capacity. You do not need a diagnosed mental illness to be mentally vulnerable.
You should be classed as vulnerable if you:
- have difficulty understanding the consequences of what is happening to you at the police station,
- don’t seem to understand the importance of what you are told,
- don’t seem to understand the importance of questions the police ask you,
- don’t seem to understand the importance of your replies to the police questions,
- appear to become confused and unclear about what is happening,
- provide unreliable, misleading or incriminating information without meaning to,
- do what other people tell you to do without wanting to, or
- agree with everything someone is saying without questioning it.
Liaison and Diversion services
Liaison and Diversion services are provided by the NHS. They work within the criminal justice system, including at police stations.
Liaison and Diversion services identify vulnerable people who have contact with the criminal justice system. This includes people with mental health problems.
Their main aims are to improve health outcomes for people and to support them in reducing their offending. They can support you whilst at the police station and make sure that you get referred to suitable health or social care services.
The police should refer you to Liaison and Diversion services if you have a mental health problem. Or you can ask them to refer you. You can also search for search for the services yourself at:
Your legal adviser should talk to you about what the police think you have done. They should act in your best interests.
They should remind you that the police haven’t proven anything. The interview gives you the chance to tell your side of the story.
You should tell your legal adviser about your mental health. They will think about whether this could have played a part in the crime the police think you have carried out.
The legal adviser should discuss with you if you should answer police questions. Or give them a written statement. Even though you have the right to remain silent, this can be held against you if your case goes to court as we discussed in the previous section.
The legal adviser and appropriate adult are there to support you. They can ask for breaks if they feel you need one. They can interrupt the police if they think you are becoming distressed from questioning.
What might happen after I have been arrested?
After you have been arrested, there are a few things that can happen. Below are some things below that mean you do not need to go to court.
- No further action. Nothing else happens.
- Caution or conditional caution.
- Fixed Penalty Notice. This is a fine.
- Going to hospital under the Mental Health Act.
- Going to hospital voluntarily.
The police can charge you without going to the CPS for some offences. Some of these offences include:
- theft, criminal damage of less than £5000, driving offences, shoplifting and common assault, and
- some offences which they think the Magistrate’s court will be able to deal with.
The police will speak to your legal adviser and let them know if they decide to charge you.
Being charged is when you must go to court. If this happens you can plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty there will then be a trial.
The police can only issue a caution if you admit that you are guilty. You have to agree to the caution. If you don’t agree you can be arrested and charged with the crime.
Cautions can be given to anyone over 10 years old. They are given for minor offences.
Your appropriate adult should be there when the police caution you.
A caution goes on your criminal record but is not a criminal conviction. But courts can refer to them if you commit a further crime. So it is important that you get legal advice before accepting a caution. A caution can show up on a criminal record check.
The police can give this to anyone over 10 years old. There are only certain times you can get a conditional caution so ask your legal adviser.
You will be given conditions that you have to follow. These conditions should:
- help you change your behaviour and not offend in the future,
- make sure you can undo any damage you have done when you committed the offence, or
- be a punishment to you for the offence you committed.
These conditions must be completed within 16 weeks. If you do not meet the conditions, you may need to go to court for the original crime.
Detention under the Mental Health Act
You might be detained under the Mental Health Act. This will happen if:
- you have a mental disorder, and
- your, or other people’s, health and safety are at risk.
When you may have to go to court
Police bail is when you are a suspect in an investigation into a crime. But the police are temporarily releasing you.
You can leave the police station but there has been no final decision made about what will happen in your case. The police may need to do more investigations, or the CPS may need more time to decide if they will charge you.
You must return to the police station when you are told to or you will be in breach of bail. And the police could arrest you again.
Released under investigation
The police can release you ‘pending further investigation’ instead of placing you on bail.
This means that you do not have to attend the police station again on a certain date. But the police investigation is still ongoing.
The police may take some time before they make a decision about the investigation. You might be:
- required to go to the police station again for interview,
- charged or summonsed to attend court, or
- no further action will be taken.
You will have been given a notice when released from the police station which sets out some further guidance on what it means to be released under investigation.
Charge and bail
If the CPS feels you should be prosecuted in court, the custody sergeant will charge you for a specific crime. The appropriate adult must be there when they do this.
If you are charged, you should apply for legal aid as soon as possible. The police should let you leave the police station on bail until your court date. The police can decide not to grant bail if they think you:
- will not go to court if they give you bail,
- might commit more crimes whilst on bail, or
- might interfere with witnesses.
If the police keep you at the station, you will usually go to court the following morning. Your legal adviser could talk to the police about the effect being held would have on your mental health.
You can find more information about:
We have factsheets that look at many areas of the criminal justice system. We have named some in these factsheets. But there are some others below which you may find useful.
- Section 35 by clicking here.
- Section 36 by clicking here.
- Section 37 by clicking here.
- Section 37/41 by clicking here.
- Section 38 by clicking here.
- Section 47/49 by clicking here.
- Section 48/49, by clicking here.
- Prison – going in by clicking here.
- Prison - what happens while I am in prison? by clicking here.
- Complaints about the police by clicking here.
- Complaints about the court by clicking here.
- Complaints about prison by clicking here.
- Complaints about probation by clicking here.
Crown Prosecution Service
They prosecute criminal cases the police in England and Wales investigate.
They provide useful information on crime and policing in your area.
The National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN)
NAAN is a national charity. They support and represent organisations to deliver appropriate adult services in England and Wales. They have lots of information on the role of the appropriate adult on their website.