Do I have to answer police questions? - Liberty (2024)

Attending a protest / Police / Questioning

Can I walk away from a police officer asking me questions in the street? What are “Section 50” powers? What if I’m interviewed “under caution”? Find these answers and more here.

On this page:

What if we're having a casual conversation?

What is a ‘stop and account’?

What is a ‘stop and search’?

What are ‘Section 50’ powers?

What if I’m questioned as a suspect?

What happens if I’m arrested?

What is an interview under caution?

What if the police interview me as a witness?

No, in most cases you don’t have to answer police questions, but it depends on the circ*mstances.

Although you’re not generally required to answer police questions, this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to lie or to give deliberately difficult answers.

It’s not always an offence to lie to a police officer, but if you do lie, it could be considered to be obstruction of an officer or wasting police time, particularly if they are asking questions about an investigation or a case.

If you’re asked a question that you don’t want – and are not obliged – to answer, you could:

  • ask if you are being detained, and walk away if the answer is no
  • say “no comment”
  • simply stay quiet.

What if we’re having a casual conversation?

Police officers are allowed to use and record information which you provide in casual conversation. If you’re at a protest or similar event, a police officer may try to start a conversation with you and gather information about you or others. But just because they’re in a police uniform, it doesn’t give their questions any additional power. If you don’t want to talk to them, you are free to stay silent and walk away, as you would with anyone else.

The police often use these tactics at protests with “police liaison officers”. These officers wear blue bibs and will try to talk to protesters in order to collect information. If you’re at a protest and approached by a police liaison officer, remember you are under no obligation to talk them if you don’t want to.

What is a ‘stop and account’?

A ‘stop and account’ is when a police officer or police community support officer (PCSO) stops you to ask you what you’re doing. They might also ask for your name and address.

Although this might seem more official than a casual conversation, you’re under no obligation to answer them. You can decline to answer and walk away.

The police aren’t allowed to use refusal to answer questions as a reason to search or arrest you. If they do, you may be able to bring a legal challenge against them.

If you’re not sure if it’s a ‘stop and account’, you can ask whether you’re being detained or if you’re free to go.

If you’re being detained, it must either be a stop and search or an arrest. If it’s not, you can simply decline to answer questions and walk away.

What is a ‘stop and search’?

To understand what ‘stop and search’ is, visit our dedicated ‘stop and search’ page.

If you’re approached by a police officer for ‘stop and search’, you’re still not required to answer anything.

If they ask whether they can search somewhere, you don’t have to say yes. There are two key points to remember:

  • If they have the legal power to search somewhere (e.g. an ordinary stop and search can include searching your outer layer of clothing), they do not need your permission.
  • If they don’t have the legal power to search somewhere (e.g. an ordinary stop and search cannot include searching your under garments) then saying yes does not make the search legal.

They might also ask your name and address, but again, you are not required to give this information and you should not feel pressured to answer their questions. If they find something during the search, or otherwise are treating you as a suspect, see that section below.

What are ‘Section 50’ powers?

Section 50 of the Police Reform Act allows the police to ask for your name and address if they believe you are, or have been, engaging in anti-social behaviour. That is, behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, “harassment, alarm or distress”.

In these circ*mstances, you are required to provide these details and it is an offence to refuse, or to give false or inaccurate information.

However, the police cannot use Section 50 as a “blanket power”. This means that the police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you, specifically, are engaging in, or have been engaging in, anti-social behaviour. They are not allowed to question everyone in a crowd just because they suspect that someone in that crowd was involved in anti-social behaviour.

This can be especially important to remember during protests.

For more information on this, see our pages here.

What if I’m questioned as a suspect?

If you’re told that you’re suspected of committing a crime, the law around police questioning and what you are obliged to say is different.

If you’re a suspect, you’re still not required to answer questions, but the police are likely to ask for your name or address. If you refuse to answer, you may be arrested. This is because the police are allowed to arrest a suspect if they believe it is “necessary” for the investigation. They can therefore argue that, because you didn’t provide any identifying information, they had to arrest you in case they couldn’t find you later. The law actually specifies that an arrest may be “necessary” in order for the police to get a suspects name or address. Because of this, arrest is sometimes used as a threat if you don’t answer their questions.

But even in this situation, there is still no legal obligation for you to answer their questions. And if they do arrest you and can’t show that it was necessary for the investigation, you may be able to bring a legal claim against them.

Just because you’re being arrested, it doesn’t mean you’re being charged. The police can only hold you for 24 hours without charge, unless you’re suspected of a serious crime such as murder or terrorism. To charge you, they would need sufficient evidence. The fact you refused to answer questions is not evidence and cannot be used as a reason to hold you for any longer without charge.

What happens if I’m arrested?

If you’re arrested, you will be questioned again.

If a police officer tries to start a casual conversation with you on the way to the police station, you do not have to answer their questions.

Once you get to the police station, you’ll probably be questioned formally. This is known as an interview. You’ll know when this happens because the police must read out a caution beforehand and the conversation will be recorded. The caution is:

You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention something when questioned that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

You will also have the right to legal advice, which we would recommend that you take. It might be worth finding a solicitor who specialises in the offence in question. For example, there are many solicitors who specialise in protest law.

Even when you are being formally questioned, you do not have to answer their questions. You can simply say nothing, or reply “no comment”.It might be better to prepare a written statement, or to answer some questions, but not others. Your solicitor will be better able to advise you about this at the time.

For more information on arrest, see our pages here.

What is an interview under caution?

In some circ*mstances, you can also be formally questioned without being arrested. This is called being interviewed ‘under caution’ and will normally be used when you are suspected of a crime.

This is similar to being questioned when under arrest, but you’ll probably have more time to get legal advice. You should find a firm specialising in criminal defence law and get their advice before your interview.

What if the police interview me as a witness?

You’re not required to provide any information to the police as a witness.

If the police try to talk to you in the street about an event, the same rules apply as for any casual conversation. You should not lie to the police, but you do not have to answer their questions. You can simply say “no comment” or walk away.

If the police ask to interview you as a witness for a legal case, you don’t have to say yes. If you do agree, you’re allowed to talk to a solicitor before the interview.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

Know your rights

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Do I have to answer police questions? - Liberty (2024)

FAQs

Do I have to answer police questions? - Liberty? ›

You have the right to remain silent

right to remain silent
The right to silence is a legal principle which guarantees any individual the right to refuse to answer questions from law enforcement officers or court officials. It is a legal right recognized, explicitly or by convention, in many of the world's legal systems.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Right_to_silence
. For example, you do not have to answer any questions about where you are going, where you are traveling from, what you are doing, or where you live. If you wish to exercise your right to remain silent, say so out loud.

Can you say I don't answer questions to the police? ›

Do I have to answer questions asked by law enforcement officers? No. You have the constitutional right to remain silent. In general, you do not have to talk to law enforcement officers (or anyone else), even if you do not feel free to walk away from the officer, you are arrested, or you are in jail.

Do you have to tell the truth to the police? ›

It is a crime to lie about your identity to a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop or while being placed under arrest. Filing a false police report is also a crime. The most serious offense, however, is perjury, which can be a felony.

Do cops have the right to remain silent? ›

In the criminal investigation, the officer has the same constitutional protections as any other citizen, and can refuse to answer any questions about the incident. In the internal investigation, the officer must answer all questions or be charged with insubordination.

Do you have to identify yourself to the police in New York? ›

3. In New York, you are not required to carry ID, and you don't have to show ID to a police officer. If you are issued a summons or arrested, however, and you refuse to produce ID or tell officers who you are, the police may detain you until you can be positively identified.

What to say when a cop asks you where you are going? ›

You have the right to remain silent. For example, you do not have to answer any questions about where you are going, where you are traveling from, what you are doing, or where you live. If you wish to exercise your right to remain silent, say so out loud.

What happens if you never talk to the police? ›

Being aware of your rights and not speaking to law enforcement can protect you and the strength of your defense, should charges be filed against you. By not talking to police, you give your criminal defense attorney a better opportunity to prepare an effective defense on your behalf.

What the police don t want you to know? ›

These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the understanding that anything you say can and will be used against you. If the police fail to provide this crucial notification, it could impact the admissibility of statements made during the interrogation.

Does an undercover cop have to tell you his badge number? ›

The short answer is no, he doesn't, but let's look at where this undying myth comes from along with some of the things that an undercover cop really can or can't do in the line of duty.

Can you plead the Fifth at a traffic stop? ›

Under the Fifth Amendment, you can refuse to answer any questions asked by an officer during a traffic stop. This can simply be done by stating that you wish to “plead the Fifth,” however, it's not always necessary to say those exact words.

Can a cop handcuff you without reading your rights? ›

So… Do I Have to Be Read My Miranda Rights When Handcuffed? The question of whether Miranda rights must be read upon arrest is a nuanced one. In essence, the obligation to recite Miranda rights isn't a prerequisite for all arrests, contrary to portrayals in popular media.

Can police tell you who reported you? ›

Unless there is a state law or a agency policy requiring it, no the police do not have to tell you a thing about someone reporting you.

Does NY have a stop and ID law? ›

In New York, you are not required to carry ID, and you don't have to show ID to a police officer.

What counts as reasonable suspicion? ›

Specific, Articulable Facts: To establish reasonable suspicion, law enforcement officers must rely on concrete facts, not just vague suspicions, or general hunches. These facts can be obtained through observations, information from informants, or other credible sources.

What is the right to know law in NY? ›

The Right to Know Law states that all employers must inform employees of health effects and hazards of toxic substances at the workplace. This program is designed to inform you of the possible dangers in dealing with hazardous chemicals, and the measures you can take in order to protect yourself.

What happens if you refuse to answer a question in court? ›

If you avoid this, you could be held in contempt and face incarceration, fines, or fees. To ensure your rights and interests is in good hands throughout a court proceeding, you may want to reach out to a lawyer who has experience in the courtroom.

Can the police call me in for questioning? ›

Obviously, if an officer phones your house and asks you to come into the police station, they already know who you are, so an arrest isn't necessary. Nonetheless, they may still assume you committed the crime. Even if you're not being investigated for a crime, you have the freedom to refuse to answer police questions.

How do you tell if you're being set up by police? ›

One of the most common signs of a criminal investigation is heightened surveillance. This could involve being followed or monitored by law enforcement agencies or private investigators. You may notice unfamiliar cars parked near your home or workplace, or you might see people observing you from a distance.

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