Arrests and the Law

The police have powers to arrest an individual anywhere and at any time, including on the street, at home or at work – but to arrest someone the police need reasonable grounds to suspect they are involved in a crime for which arrest is necessary.

Arrest is usually the first stage of the criminal justice process – it is when the police carry out initial questioning of someone suspected of a crime or an offence.

  • Before arresting you, a police officer must tell you that you are being arrested. They must also tell you the offence you are being arrested for and why it is necessary to arrest you.
  • The police can only arrest you if they have good reason to think that you have committed a crime AND they have good reason to think that arresting you is necessary.
  • You have the ‘right to silence’ under law. Because of this an officer must caution you using the words: “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.” However (as stated in Section 34 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) a  court and jury has the right to draw ‘adverse inference’ (or negative conclusion) from silence.
  • You must be told the name or identifying shoulder number of an arresting officer, and what police station you are being taken to. NB Sometimes at large protests the police do not always know which station they will take you to.
  • The police officer may search you. This usually takes the form of a ‘pat down’. Police officers are only allowed to conduct strip searches if they have a good reason to believe you might be hiding items such as weapons or drugs on your person. A strip search must be done out of public view and should be done by an officer of the same gender as you – if you are transgender or non-binary you can tell the police officer which gender officer you would prefer to search you and they should respect it.
  • The police have the power to demand your name and address if they have reason to believe you have acted in an ‘anti-social’ manner (causing, or likely to cause, ‘harassment, alarm or distress’). It is an offence to refuse to provide your details in these circumstances or to give the wrong details.
  • You are under no legal obligation to provide further personal details: this includes when you are ʻbooked in’ or processed at the police station after an arrest.
  • Police have the right to use ‘reasonable force’ if you resist arrest, try to escape or become violent, and to handcuff you if the arresting officers feel this is appropriate. Police are only allowed to use force if you have been given a chance to co-operate but have refused. 
  • You have the right to: have someone informed of your arrest; an interpreter if English isn’t your first language; and an appropriate adult (see below) if you’re under 18 or a vulnerable person.

Being arrested is never fun – but the best advice is not to panic. You have rights (outlined below) and the police have to follow procedures so try to keep calm and don’t give the police any reason to hold you. Once you have asked for a solicitor you don’t have to answer any questions until they arrive.

If you’ve been arrested because of something that happened at a hunt or protest give no information other than that required by law, and only talk with a solicitor. 

The hours spent in a cell may seem interminable, but your solicitor will be working on your behalf. Unless you have committed a crime and that crime has been witnessed and recorded, in the vast majority of cases of arrest (especially an arrest made because of a ‘complaint’ by a hunt) there will be insufficient evidence to take you to court and the police will not take your case further.

A custody officer at a police station must explain your rights.

You have the right to:

  • get free legal advice – you are entitled to free legal representation when arrested or interviewed under caution by police. You can choose the duty solicitor available at the police station or request your own legal representation.
  • tell someone where you are.
  • have medical help if you’re feeling ill.
  • see the rules the police must follow (‘Codes of Practice’).
  • see a written notice telling you about your rights, eg regular breaks for food and to use the toilet (you can ask for a notice in your language) or an interpreter to explain the notice.


Note that you will be searched and any possessions will be kept by the police custody officer while you’re in the cell.

Under most circumstances the police can hold you for up to 24 hours before they have to charge you with a crime or release you.

They can apply to hold you for up to 36 or 96 hours if you’re suspected of a serious crime, eg murder.

You can be held without charge for up to 14 days If you’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.

Everyone has the right to peaceful protest. While there is no specific right in law, it is enshrined in the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, protected respectively under articles 10 and 11 of the European convention on human rights, which was directly incorporated into domestic British law by the Human Rights Act.

Limitations to the right to protest in England and Wales were set out in the Public Order Act 1986 and were limited further in 2022 by the passing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (PCSC). There is also a common law offence of breach of the peace, and an offence of the same name exists separately in Scotland, where it is also a statutory offence under section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. Northern Ireland has its own legislation governing protests – the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which includes conditions that can be imposed on public processions.


Offences activists might be charged with include:

Breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 – the Act allows the police to impose any type of condition on a public procession or public assembly necessary to prevent: significant impact on persons or serious disruption to the activities of an organisation by noise; serious disorder; serious damage to property; serious disruption to the life of the community; or if the purpose of the persons organising the protest is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do.


Public Nuisance – a common law offence where someone is believed to have acted in a way that endangers the life, health, property, morals or comfort of the public or obstructs the public in the exercise or enjoyment of rights common to all citizens. NB This can be used to include ‘organising’ a protest.


Aggravated trespass – this is when a person enters (or puts property on) land belonging to someone else without their permission in a way that intentionally prevents someone from carrying out lawful activities. NB this has been used to police ‘lawful activities’ including bird shooting and ‘trail hunting’.


Obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duties – a person ‘obstructs’ if they wilfully prevent an officer (or a person assisting an officer) in the execution of their duty or makes it more difficult for them to do so. Going ‘limp’ might make an officer’s job harder but is NOT obstruction, but giving a false name and address may lead to you being charged with this offence.


Obstructing a highway – you can be found to have wilfully obstructed ‘the free passage of a highway’. In this context ‘highway’ can refer to roads and pavements as well as grass verges and private property. For the offence to be considered ‘wilful’ you must normally have been asked to move by police and have refused. Anecodotal reports suggest that arrest is less likely if you are on a pavement rather than standing in the road.


Criminal damage – this is causing damage to property that does not belong to you through an unlawful act, and can include writing signs on a building using non-permanent materials such as chalk. NB this offence has been used for charging activists for eg crushing cages used in the badger cull or tampering with or taking away traps used on shooting estates.


Physical assault – this is where a person inflicts violence on another person or makes another person think they are about to be attacked.


Verbal assault – this means an intentional threat by word to do violence to another person, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, while creating a well-founded fear in the other person that such violence is imminent without subjecting him or her to physical attack.

Interviews can be quite daunting procedures, but you have legal rights and can have a solicitor present at all times. If you are under 18 request an ‘appropriate adult’. If you feel ill at any time tell the officers interviewing you.

At the start of the interview, the police should tell you:

  • The names of the officers in attendance.
  • That the interview is being recorded.
  • The purpose of the interview – including what offence is being investigated.
  • That you can choose to end the interview at any time.
  • That you do not have to say anything.
  • That anything you do say can be used against you in a court of law.
  • That you have the right to legal representation.

You should be formally cautioned – if this does not happen, then anything you say during the interview may potentially be considered inadmissible as evidence by a court.

 Questions that will be asked normally cover issues such as:

  • Your whereabouts at certain times.
  • Whether you know certain people.
  • Your knowledge of specific events.
 You have the right to breaks (normally 15 minutes every two hours, if the interview goes on for this long).

A voluntary police interview or interview under caution is a formal conversation with police that usually takes place at a police station. If you have been asked to attend a voluntary police interview, it usually means that the police suspect you of involvement in a crime. You could find yourself arrested and charged with a crime, or given a summons to attend Court.

You do not have to attend a ‘voluntary’ police interview and you can leave at any time once the interview has begun, but failure to attend or attempting to leave could result in you being arrested.

  • The police may ask you to attend a ‘voluntary interview’ because they do not feel they have sufficient grounds to suspect you of having committed a crime, so cannot arrest you.
  • While a voluntary interview might be less formal than an interview under arrest, the conversation will still be recorded and what you say could be used against you in any subsequent criminal proceedings.
  • You have the right to a solicitor during any interview with the police and, once you have requested a solicitor police officers are not allowed to ask you any questions until that solicitor has arrived.
  • You will normally be invited to the interview in writing, with the option of two different dates to choose from. You can also suggest an alternative date if needed.

Police officers are trained to engage activists in ‘casual’ conversation to see what they can learn.

  • They are sometimes ‘just being friendly’ and establishing rapport, but be wary about chatting with officers while in a police car or van or when being ʻbooked in’ at the police station.
  • It’s usually best to answer “No Comment” to the police until you’ve had legal advice from a solicitor with special knowledge about protests and activism.
  • You can say “No Comment” at any time during your arrest and questioning.

As a rule of thumb, the advice is not to accept a caution without first taking legal advice from a solicitor.

A caution is used to deal with anyone over 10 years of age who have committed less serious offences and who admit their guilt. Cautions allow the police to deal with persons quickly and simply by removing the need for the case to be heard in court. The person will be warned that any further offences will be taken to court.

A caution isn’t a criminal conviction and therefore it is considered to be ‘spent’ immediately under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (therefore if there is a section on eg a job application form asking about unspent convictions under the Act, if you’ve received a caution you don’t have to say anything).

Remember, you can only be given a caution if you admit an offence. That also means that having admitted an offence you cannot appeal the decision at a later date.

  • While a ‘caution’ is an admission of guilt it will not go on a person’s criminal record. It will, however, be recorded on the police database and may be considered in court if the person is tried for another offence. Cautions can show on standard and enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.

Lawyers report that clients frequently ask whether they should hand over their phones to the police when requested, especially after the enactment of ‘PCSAC’, The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. They suggest that rather than automatically complying without question, talk to a lawyer first.

We’ve listed several (slightly confusing) sources of information on this below – which seems to suggest that the advice ‘to talk to a lawyer first’ is good advice!


College of Policing

In ‘Extraction of material from digital devices‘ on the College of Policing website, says that ” New legislation [ie PCSAC] now standardises how and when the police can lawfully extract information from an electronic device if it has been voluntarily provided.” and that “an authorised person can exercise the extraction of information powers for the purposes of:

  • preventing crime
  • detecting crime
  • investigating crime
  • prosecuting crime
  • helping to locate a missing person
  • protecting a child or an at-risk adult from neglect or physical, mental or emotional harm.
It goes on to say that “in all cases, requests to extract information held on an electronic device are only made when necessary and proportionate, in line with a reasonable line of enquiry.”



Chapter 3 of The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 details ‘Extraction of information from electronic devices’, and section 1 says that:

(1)An authorised person may extract information stored on an electronic device from that device if—

(a)a user of the device has voluntarily provided the device to an authorised person, and

(b)that user has agreed to the extraction of information from the device by an authorised person.

This should mean that whether the police have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re involved in a crime or not they aren’t legally allowed to look through a phone unless they have the owner’s permission or they have obtained necessary legal documents relating to terrorism or child sex offences.


Unlocking a phone

Similarly, under most circumstances, the police cannot make someone unlock their phone so they can search it. If an indvidual does not want to unlock their phone for the police, they won’t usually be obliged to do so.

  • a potential exception is if police suspect that the phone an individual is carrying has been stolen and the reason for stopping you is to confirm whether this is the case.
  • If a phone is seized after the police have obtained a search warrant for an address, then the police may be able to seize and search it if they think it may contain information they are looking for.




Police may choose to use Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). This makes it an offence to refuse to provide access to a phone and could lead to arrest and prosecution.

A RIPA notice could be served if the police believe that:

  • You have the password or PIN Code
  • The notice is essential, such as if it protects national security
  • The notice is proportionate
  • The required data cannot be obtained using other methods


Failing to comply with a RIPA notice could lead to a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison.


it is not against the law to wear masks, face scarves, balaclavas, etcetera in public even if attempting to conceal your identity. But it is illegal to refuse to remove or hand them over when asked to do so by a police officer under certain circumstances.

The Crime & Disorder Act 1998 adds to Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and gives an officer in uniform the power to:-

  • Require any person to remove any item which the constable reasonably believes that person is wearing wholly or mainly for the purpose of concealing their identity.
  • Seize any item which the constable reasonably believes any person intends to wear wholly or mainly for that purpose


Under Section 26 of the Act a Constable may retain things seized under Section 60 of the CJA & POA Act.

Under Section 27 of the Act it is an arrestable offence if you do not comply with an officer in the exercise of this power.

Not yet! A new criminal offence of ‘locking on’ is being introduced in the Public Order Bill, which as of March 2023 is in its final stages but not yet law.

This measure will criminalise the protest tactic of individuals attaching themselves to others, objects or buildings to cause serious disruption. The locking-on offence will carry a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

The maximum penalty for the offence of going ‘equipped to lock-on’ will be an unlimited fine

It depends on what is done, because whether we like it or not (and we don’t) as long as no laws are being broken and shooters have the landowner’s permission to be on the site, shooting birds and mammals is currently considered a lawful activity.

If we trespass (being on land without permission) without causing any damage or trying to stop the shoot taking place this is a civil offence (no one is sent to prison in a civil case, but may be left out of pocket if found liable for compensation). The police have no power to act, but may help in removing a trespasser. A landowner or their agent may ask trespassers to leave and subsequently may use “reasonable force” to remove activists (“reasonable force” can be interpreted in many ways by the courts, and the use of excessive force could leave a shoot operator open to prosecution). The police are only likely to intervene in removing trespassers to prevent a breach of the peace.⠀

On private land (and almost all shooting takes place on private land) trespass becomes a criminal offence of aggravated trespass the moment somebody tries to prevent another person pursuing a lawful activity. Again it is up to the landowner on whose land there has been an incursion to decide on what action to take.

In Scotland, legislation relating to trespass is more complicated, and it is sometimes argued that the offence does not exist. However, anyone causing actual damage or disruption may be requested to leave.

Anyone under the age of 18 or a vulnerable adult should not be interviewed or searched without the presence of an ‘appropriate adult’.

This can be a parent, family member, friend, social worker or teacher.

If there is no suitable person available, the police may select an ‘appropriate adult’ from a list of volunteers to perform the task. The National Appropriate Adult Network provides appropriate adult services in England and Wales.

  • NB: In this last situation an ‘appropriate adult’ will not typically be qualified to provide legal advice. 

An FOI (Freedom of information request reference no: 01.FOI.22.023971) published on the Metropolitan Police website, says the following:


“It is not an offence to film a Police station, if spotted, Police officers can approach and ask questions as to what the individual is doing and why. If the officer suspects possible Terrorism Offences then the power to search, seize could come into effect.

If an individual wants to film outside one of our stations, or film the building itself then we ask them to make contact with us so we can ask questions as to what the project is and how we would manage it.

There is also the issue of Intellectual Property Rights, filming MPS logos, trademarks that, legitimate filming productions have to apply and pay a fee if approved.

There are situations where people turn up at Police stations, videoing, taking photos and wanting a reaction from the Police. The officers obviously have a right to question such activity but if the investigating officer(s) are satisfied that there are no apparent offences and a threat to security then there is no law being broken.”

No, the police do not necessarily need a warrant to speak with an individual, however, they must ensure that they have filled out the correct paperwork: “Schedule 2 Part 1 Para. 2 Data Protection Act 2018 Exemption”,

A Schedule 2 exemption does not provide a statutory requirement to disclose information, nor do permissive legislation such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or the Crime and Disorder Act 1988. Confirm that the officer asking for the information is doing so to prevent or detect a crime or prosecute an offender. 

If a Schedule 2 exemption is claimed by an officer, get this in writing, signed by a senior officer, and ensure there is: 

  • A clear indication that the police are confident that they are working within the framework of the Data Protection ACt (DPA) and will satisfy all relevant DPA requirements 
  • Clarification on whether informing the individual about the disclosure would prejudice the investigation 
  • A clear description of the specific information that is requested.

According to the Metropolitan Police website:

Body Worn Video (BWV) cameras (small, visible devices worn attached to the officers’ uniform) are issued to all officers who come into contact with the public and are used to capture both video and audio evidence when officers are attending all types of incidents – including arrests.

Officers activate their cameras at the start of an incident or encounter, and under normal circumstances will continue to record until it’s no longer ‘proportionate or necessary’ or another system takes over, eg CCTV within a police station. When it’s recording, flashing red lights will appear in the centre of the camera and officers will make people aware that they are being recorded.

The use of BWV is incident specific; unless they’re part of a specific operation, officers won’t be recording as part of normal patrolling, but officers will almost always use a camera when they are:

  • stopping a vehicle

  • going somewhere to arrest someone

  • searching a property, land or a vehicle

  • performing a stop and search

  • attending a critical incident

  • using force against someone or someone’s property

  • attending a domestic abuse response.

Video footage is only retained for 30 days unless required for investigative, complaints and other police purposes.
The police do not have to get consent to film an individual, but anyone who has been recorded has a right to request to view the footage.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.


  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though. Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.


  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.


  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.


If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide information not professional opinion. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no obligation to update such material. Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.