Voluntary Interviews – What you should know
17 November 2021
Article by Claire Anderson
‘Your client has to attend the Voluntary Interview, Miss Anderson’ the officer told me, without a hint of irony.
‘Actually, he doesn’t have to, hence it’s called ‘voluntary’ ‘I replied, ‘and until you can provide me with the appropriate disclosure to demonstrate any evidence that he may have committed an offence worthy of investigation, he will not be ‘volunteering’ to be interviewed.
I should say that in that particular case, I am still waiting for such evidence. I doubt it will come.
A voluntary interview is a very useful process for suspects, solicitors, and indeed the Police and in appropriate cases, it is regularly offered by police to avoid the need for an arrest.
Nobody wants to be arrested at home or elsewhere if this can be avoided. It is a humiliating experience and can be very traumatic for those who live with the suspect. Who would want their parents or young children to witness them being carted off by 5 police officers, in handcuffs, in the early hours of the morning?
In a large proportion of cases however, such an arrest is the only option. This is because it gives the police the power to search premises, seize items for examination, including mobile phones, and it also gives them the power to take DNA and fingerprints from the suspect, even without charge. It allows police to release the suspect on bail, often with inconvenient or onerous conditions. Most significantly, it allows police to lock up a suspect in a police cell, for an initial 24-hour period, subject to extensions. Lying on a hard bed in a small cell, under scratchy blanket, is an experience to be avoided if at all possible.
An arrest takes up an enormous amount of police time and money, not to mention cell space, and so if an officer can opt for the ‘voluntary’ route, they will. Cases where this process applies includes a broad spectrum of offences and as someone who specialises in historic offences of a sexual nature, the vast majority of my clients attend ‘voluntary interviews’.
A common mistake is to believe that because you are invited to attend ‘voluntarily’, it is just a chat, and nothing to really worry about. Wrong! Although none of the powers described above apply to Voluntary Interviews, the interview will be conducted under police caution, just like an arrest interview, and what you say or do not say in either interview can have a major impact on any future proceedings, if charged. It is therefore extremely important that you arrange legal representation. The police can arrange for the duty solicitor to attend but you can also identify and instruct a solicitor of your choice to attend with you, whether you take advantage of the free duty solicitor scheme or opt for private instruction.
Another huge advantage of Voluntary Interviews is our ability to obtain details of the allegation prior to the arranged interview date so we and the client can discuss this and prepare; a lot of the groundwork can therefore be done in advance, which is very reassuring for the client. The Voluntary Interview is arranged for a date and time convenient to all parties. The police are generally very flexible in this respect.
One thing that is very important in the Voluntary Interview process is that the relevant lawyer properly establishes the reason for the Voluntary Interview request by obtaining as full disclosure as possible from the police. Given this is their day job, some Police do forget the enormity of being the subject of a formal police interview, voluntarily or otherwise. This is why it is critical to engage an experienced solicitor who should establish the evidential basis for the request to attend.
If there is none, then I would advise a client not to attend at all.
In some case, challenging the officer about the reasons for the request can result in the reconsideration of its necessity. This month alone, I have persuaded two police officers to rescind their request that my clients attend Voluntary Interview’s. In both cases it was conceded, after my written representations, that there was no evidential foundation to support the request. Great relief for my clients and enormous job satisfaction for me.
One caveat here is that a refusal to attend a Voluntary Interview could lead to the police making an arrest instead. It would be very unwise to refuse to attend a Voluntary Interview without proper advice from an experienced lawyer.
In the majority of cases, where the police invite a suspect to a Voluntary Interview, there will be sufficient evidence to make an arrest if that invitation is declined. In some cases, however, this is simply not the case. This is for your legal advisor to establish prior to any attendance. Proactive representation is very important in all criminal cases, if the best outcome is to be achieved.
Always take advice before agreeing to attend a Voluntary Interview. It is a convenient and much better option than an interview following arrest, but it has exactly the same weight as the latter in any court proceedings. Ensure you are informed and prepared.