Arrest and detention in Northern Ireland

Arrest for a Criminal offence in Northern Ireland

At the time of arrest a suspect will be notified by the arresting officer that they have the right to remain silent however anything that they do say may be given in evidence against them. Such warnings should be noted as the response from a suspect to their arrest will always be recorded in a police officers notebook and appear on the custody record. Any incriminating information given at the time of arrest or during the subsequent police interview will form a part of the prosecutions case.

All arrested persons will be taken to a designated police station. Those stations designated by the Chief Constable are chosen on the basis that they provide adequate accommodation for those persons arrested. In addition to the designated police stations in Northern Ireland the PSNI Serious Crime Suite in Antrim has been designated as being suitable for the detention of persons detained under Section 41 and Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989

The Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE) sets out the statutory rules within which the police must operate when arresting, questioning and charging a suspect. A breach of the PACE regulations may prove fatal for any police investigation and accordingly they form the bed-rock of best practice for any police investigation. One of the duties of a solicitor attending a police station is to ensure that their client is treated fairly and in accordance with the PACE Codes of Practice.

Right to have someone informed when arrested

If you have been arrested for a criminal offence in Northern Ireland you have the right under Article 57 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 to have someone informed that you have been arrested and are being detained in police custody. The legislation allows for that person to be a friend, relative or other person who is likely to take an interest in your welfare.

Delay is permissible only in certain circumstances that are referred to under the legislation. 

The criminal solicitor’s role at police stations

Under Article 59 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, more commonly referred to as PACE, every person arrested and held in police custody is entitled to consult with a solicitor privately at any time. There are certain exceptions whereby the police are permitted to delay the granting of a request from a suspect to obtain legal representation. These exceptions are however rare and generally speaking a suspect will be granted access to a solicitor of their choice as soon as is practically possible.

The overriding role of a criminal solicitor attending a police station in Northern Ireland is to ensure that the legal rights of their client are protected. The role of a criminal solicitor in the police station can take various forms. The criminal solicitor is expected to:-

  • Advice their client on the legal process through which they will be subjected to and the various options available to them
  • Be supportive to their client particularly those clients who are vulnerable and confused by the situation that they find themselves in
  • Ensure that the interview is conducted in a fair manner
  • Keep an accurate and independent record of proceedings
  • Seek to arrange the release of their client whether through the voluntary release or by way of police bail
  • Advice their client on their rights and obligations under the PACE Codes of Practice

A criminal solicitor must however operate within the confines of criminal law and should not in any way assist the suspect in any illegal activity. A solicitor is an Officer of the Court and his/her primary duty is to uphold the responsibilities that such a position carries.

24 Hour police station callouts

Most criminal law firms in Northern Ireland will operate a 24 hour emergency call out service to police stations for those persons detained outside of normal working hours. A suspect may be presented with a list of criminal solicitors operating such a service in the area surrounding that particular police station. The suspect if free to chose whatever solicitor they would like to call however in the event that the suspect has no particular preference of solicitor the police may contact a duty solicitor on call in that area.

Voluntary attendance at Police Stations

A person may be asked to attend a police station in Northern Ireland in a capacity of a voluntary attendee for the purposes of assisting the police with an investigation. It is important to note that if you are requested to attend the police station in such capacity you are entitled to have a legal representative attend the police station with you. A person attending the police station voluntarily should avail of this and arrange for an experienced criminal solicitor to attend with them.

During the course of the interview it is important to note that the voluntary attendee is free to leave the station at any time unless he/she has been places under arrest.

No comment interviews and the use of adverse inferences

During the police interview it is possible for a suspect to give what is called a “no comment interview”. Essentially this is when a suspect answers all questions put to them by stating “no comment”. A solicitor will advice his client of the implications of giving a no-comment interview however it will ultimately be up the client to decide how they conduct themselves during the interview.

Those giving no-comment interviews should be warned about the danger of adverse inferences being drawn from their refusal to give evidence when questioned and then seeking to later rely on that evidence in Court. It is permissible for the prosecution to refer to such actions during the hearing at Court. 

Release and bail

Following arrest and questioning at the police station the police must make a decision as to whether or not to release the suspect. If the police decide that there is insufficient evidence to charge the suspect they may be released without charge. Failing this the police will:-

  • Release the suspect on police bail to reappear at a date and time notified to him/her by the custody sergeant
  • Detain the suspect in police custody to appear before a Magistrates’ Court as soon as is practicable possible
  • Caution the suspect
  • Release the suspect and refer the matter to the Public Prosecution Service to issue a Summons for the suspect to appear before a Magistrates Court to answer such complaints 

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