Police forces must have a genuine reason for arresting an individual and detaining them in custody, and must follow set procedures to stay within the law themselves.
Should an arrest be deemed unlawful (no genuine reason or need for making the arrest), then any related period in detention would also be classed as unlawful.
Police officers should always fully consider whether there is a need to arrest, and it cannot be done simply for their own convenience and to make their investigations easier. If they do not have a lawful reason for arresting and detaining an individual, then this could amount to false imprisonment.
Alternatively, if it could be shown that somebody was held for longer than required, or that other realistic alternatives had not been considered, it could be classed an unlawful period of detention.
In one case handled by our team at Hudgell Solicitors, we successfully secured compensation for a man who had voluntarily attended at a police station over an alleged breach of a court order, only to be arrested by an officer and detained for five hours until his solicitor arrived.
A 20 minute interview took place and he was released, having effectively falsely imprisoned him by locking him in the cells.
Misuse of stop and search powers and containing crowds without letting individuals leave an area (known as “kettling”) can also potentially lead to claims of unlawful imprisonment and compensation claims.
Once arrested, an individual can only be held in police custody for up to 24 hours. After that the police must either charge them with a crime or release them.
Extensions can be applied for – up to 36 or 96 hours if somebody is suspected of a serious crime – and 14 days if they have been arrested under the Terrorism Act.
If people are held for longer than appropriate, this can constitute unlawful imprisonment.
In the cases we handle at Hudgell Solicitors, we often see police officers fail to follow procedures in their haste to investigate and secure a result, unfairly detaining a suspect later found to have committed no crime at all.
In many cases there has been no need to arrest or hold them for any period of time.
Arrest and detention of under-18s
Police forces may be breaking the law if they detain under-18s in adult cells after charging them with an offence.
Once charged with an offence, anyone under 18 should be bailed to their home or transferred to local authority accommodation unless it is impracticable, or if the child needs secure accommodation and it is not available.
It is the duty of the arresting police force and the local authority to ensure under-18s are handled appropriately, but many children whose bail is refused are wrongly detained in police cells as custody staff fail to transfer them to local authority accommodation when required.
Police custody is brought to an end by the CPS and custody sergeants’ decisions about whether to charge the child. If there is insufficient evidence to charge at that time, a child can be bailed to return to the police station at a specified future date. Even if there is sufficient evidence to charge, a child can be released on police bail.
Generally, there is a presumption that a child will be bailed without conditions, however the police may set conditions, such as to reside in a certain place or avoid certain places or people.
If a child is released on police bail, an appropriate adult must be available to look after them, as the police’s duty of care extends to the period after release from custody.
Once a decision has been taken to release a child the police have no power to detain them and must release them when an appropriate adult comes to collect them. Being held in adult cells is not appropriate, or legal.
However, Freedom of Information figures revealed that more than 22,000 children – including an eight-year-old – were held overnight in custody in 2014-15, with one being held in cells for 15 days.
How to make an unlawful detention claim
If you believe you or a member of your family has been wrongfully detained in custody, we recommend that you speak to our police claims specialists for free advice, as time limits do apply to these claims.
We will take the worry and hassle out of making a claim and advise you of the steps you need to take.
No win no fee
- personal insurance cover so there’s no financial risk to you in pursuing a claim
- whatever the outcome of your case, you won’t have to pay a penny (provided that you fully assist us with your claim) other than an agreed percentage of your damages