Police are increasingly likely to deal with people they suspect of a criminal offence via a voluntary interview, rather than under arrest in police custody. While there are clear benefits for children and vulnerable adults in being dealt with in this way, there are also some areas of increased risk.
In police custody, the role of the custody officer is independent of the investigating officer. The custody officer's job is to ensure that the rules of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and its Codes of Practice are followed - even when that might cause frustration for the investigating officer. Custody officers deal with the PACE safeguards around questioning vulnerable suspects all day every day. Even so, its clear that there are problems with applying the approriate adult safeguard for vulnerable adults.
Under voluntary interview, the investigating officer is responsible for everything - both investigating and ensuring the safeguards against themselves. This is an inherently risky tension due to the lack of independence. They may also be less likely to be familiar with the relevant parts of PACE.
Furthermore, vulnerable suspects may not fully appreciate the fact that a voluntary interview is a full PACE interview, with the same risks to them as an interview in custody. It may perceive it as an informal conversation and may be less likely to obtain legal advice.
The video above provides a comprehensive overview of our concerns around voluntary interviews.
- NAAN and ICVA joint paper to Home Office PACE Strategy Board on the use of voluntary interviews and safeguards (July 2017)
- Presented on the issue to a National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and Liaison & Diversion roundtable (October 2017)
- Worked on the NPCC working group on voluntary interviews to develop guidance for forces on voluntary interviews
- Raised the issue of AA coverage of voluntary interviews with NAAN member schemes
- Ensured that commissioners of AA provision are aware of the need to include coverage for volutnary invterviews within specifications and budgets
This has led to:
- Significant updates to PACE Code C (July 2018) which provide greater clarity and detail for police officers on the applicabilty of PACE safeguards under voluntary interview
- A section on voluntary interviews being added to the College of Policing's Authorised Professional Practice (currently waiting publication)
- Detailed NPCC guidance being sent to all forces for local adoption