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Formal Interviews - Do you need legal representation?

I hope you never need this advice and you are never summonsed to a formal interview by the Police or other public body but it is worth reading this article in case you are because you need this knowledge before you make a decision as to how to handle it.

The scenario is this. For some reason you are involved in some sort of problem, possibly unwittingly and you may well believe you are entirely innocent and therefore there should be no problem. The Police ask you to attend an interview. This may be as a voluntary attender so you are not under any obligation to go; you are not under arrest; it will appear to you that this is a casual and informal matter.

Alternatively, you may be invited to interview by another public/statutory body such as the Environment Agency, Public Health, Health and Safety Executive, Immigration Office etc. Again, you may be asked to attend voluntarily and may think this is an informal and casual process.

Let me appraise you of the fact that this is not casual, it is not informal and it must be handled seriously and with the utmost of care to ensure you protect yourself.

Consider the purpose of why you are being asked to attend an interview. It is not to acquit you of all blame and prove your innocence. It is because a matter is being investigated that could result in formal prosecution and a formal finding of guilt against you. That will mean potentially stressful and costly legal proceedings. If those legal proceedings against you are successful then it could mean serious penalties. We are familiar with the penalties which Police prosecutions can bring but not so familiar with the penalties that prosecutions by other statutory bodies can bring but those include infringements of our liberty and hefty financial penalties, so these prosecutions can be just as serious as prosecutions by the Police/Crown Prosecution Service and must be handled in the same cautious way.

Hopefully you will ask yourself the question before the interview, do I need a lawyer? There is only one right answer to this question and it is YES.

I cannot think of any interview by the Police or a public authority where it would not be justified and sensible for the person questioned to have a lawyer present with them. It is absolutely vital in every case.

You may say to yourself, but I have done nothing wrong, surely if I tell the truth everything will be fine and nothing bad will happen.

Again, let me appraise you of the fact that that is a completely false belief.

The prosecuting authority, be they the Police or other prosecuting authority, are looking to prosecute you and therefore any evidence you give will be used as evidence against you. Some of the evidence you give will be relevant and some of it won’t but you could very easily incriminate yourself without even knowing that you are doing that.

Formal interviews are very stressful experiences indeed. You are powerless, you succumb to the procedure and really have no ability to control or manage it. You will probably feel quite afraid and certainly intimidated and be in no fit state to protect yourself and think “outside the box”. That is where the lawyer comes in. The lawyer will not only ensure all the proper procedures are followed and only questions that are relevant need to answered or maybe questions need not be answered at all but a lawyer will be a person on your side with you so if you need time out, if you need to discuss something, if you are uncertain, if you just feel worried, then that lawyer will ensure those worries are accommodated and the matter can be adjourned or postponed until you feel able to deal with it. The lawyer will also advise you as to your right of silence and what the significance of the interview is and discuss with you how best the interview should be approached from a tactical point of view.

Unfortunately, those interviewing you are effectively your opponents in a dispute; they are not your friends and they are not on your side. We are used, in normal life, to thinking of the Police and those in public bodies as being on our side as they are upholding the law and prosecuting those who fall foul of it. The problem in this situation is that the person who they believe has fallen foul of it, is you and in that case they are not your friends, they are your opponents in what could be a lengthy and stressful court battle.

The interview process is an absolutely crucial one to what happens after the interview i.e. whether you do get prosecuted and if so for what. What is said at the interview and the way it is handled will have a very important bearing on what the public prosecutor decides to do so it is absolutely vital you have proper and specialist advice and help during that process. It could be the difference between being prosecuted and not. It could mean the difference between an out of court disposal being adopted instead of formal prosecution. It could be the difference between being prosecuted for a lesser offence rather than a more serious one.

For Police interviews you are entitled to legal representation free of charge under the Duty Solicitor Scheme, so if you use the Duty Solicitor Scheme there is really nothing to lose by having legal representation and this scheme can apply more widely to other prosecutions as well. Alternatively if you have a particular lawyer you want to use they may well be willing to act for you, albeit on a fee earning basis. But, it is certainly worthwhile putting investment in at this early stage because, as I say, that can have a very real bearing on what happens later and save you both time, stress and money in the longer term.

I realise this advice is somewhat unpleasant to read and I very much hope that none of you will ever need it but I can guarantee that some of you will and if you follow this advice and get a good lawyer at the outset and make sure they go to the interview with you, you will not regret it.

If you need any help concerning any prosecution and/or formal interview contact Katherine Flashman Kitson at Parnalls Solicitors on 01566 772375 or email flashmankitsonk@parnalls.com.

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