In some countries, law enforcement agents routinely conduct interrogations.  In the UK, the police NEVER interrogate anyone, not even the baddest of people.

Interrogation is a nasty word.  It conjures up images of torture, violence, deprivation and psychological mind-games.  None of these things is allowed by law, ethics and morality in UK policing.

Image result for police interview

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 dictates how suspects should be treated in the UK (except Scotland where the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 applies instead).  Even duress and oppression are big no-nos.

Whilst both witnesses and suspects are interviewed in the UK, only suspects are given the protection of PACE (or the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 in Scotland).  This doesn’t mean that witnesses get a worse deal than suspects.  Witnesses are free to come and go as they wish.  Suspects on the other hand, once arrested, are no longer at liberty.  They effectively become prisoners, locked up in a police cell.

The general run of the mill witness will be more than happy to help the police with their enquiries.  They will freely provide an account of the events they have observed and/or been a party to.  They may even have been victims as opposed to spectators (witnesses).

Some witnesses will be classed as “vulnerable.”   This could include both young and old people as well as those with learning difficulties or mental ill-health.  Vulnerable witnesses should be afforded the protection of the “Achieving Best Evidence” principles e.g. interviewed by specially trained interviewers, video and audio recorded, often in a comfortable, non-threatening environment.  This enables the vulnerable witness to feel more relaxed and safe, the flow of the interview to happen naturally, free from interruptions or prompting.  The fact that the interview is recorded also gives others a chance to see that the interview was conducted fairly, without leading questions and to allow observation of non-verbal signals.

Witness interviews are usually conducted without being recorded (except as mentioned above).  They may provide a verbal account of what they have experienced and police officers or (in usually minor cases) a civilian police employee will make a note in the form of a statement, which is eventually signed by the witness as being a true and accurate account of what they have said.  Some forces do employ civilians to specifically take statements from witnesses in serious cases such as murder.

Interviews with suspects in a police station are always recorded, under caution.  Sometimes just audio but usually in more serious cases video recordings are made.

Whilst the police have the right under PACE/Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, to ask anyone questions, there is no obligation on a person to answer those questions.  Most witnesses are happy to speak to the officer; most suspects are not and often invoke their right to remain silent.  The suspect may believe that this is their best option but at times it may be their worst.  There are occasions when their refusal to answer questions is put before a court and if they then try to offer an excuse or alibi, it can be discounted by the court if it was not mentioned in the original police interview.  Additionally, the silence could be regarded by the court as an admission of guilt, should the suspect refuse to answer pertinent questions.  After all, the main purpose of the interview is to allow the suspect to offer their side of the story, explanation or alibi.

Interviews conducted with suspects outside of police premises are rarely recorded other than by way of a written statement or written record in a police officer’s pocket notebook.

So, have you been getting your interviews right with either your witness or suspect?

Please don’t interrogate them if your story is UK-based.

Additional Resources

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) information for Victims and Witnesses can be found here

CPS Guidance on Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings can be found here

National Police Chief’s Council Guidance on Visually Recorded Interviews can be found here

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 can be found here

 

Don’t forget to get your very own copy of the following guides, if you haven’t already, by clicking on the images. 

A Writer's Guide to Police Cells and Custody Procedures in the UK by [Robinson, Kevin N.]

 

A Writer's Guide to Senior Investigating Police Officers in the UK by [Robinson, Kevin N.]

 

218 Fact Cover

 

BPCD 2016 Cover on Amazon

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Comments
  1. Brenda Littlewood says:

    Thanks, Kevin. Will mention you to a group of American crime readers I’m giving a talk to on Monday.

    Like

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