Being arrested

Last reviewed: 30/01/2023


In this guide, we aim to inform you of what the process of arrest typically looks like. For more info, contact us on


1. At the point of arrest, you should be told the grounds for your arrest and the name or number of the arresting officer. You should be told what police station you are being taken to, although if they don't tell you then ask where you are being taken. If there is a Legal Observer (LO) nearby, then tell them where you are going. At large protests, the police officers do not always know where you are going to be taken, so ask every few minutes if they have an update.


2. You will probably be handcuffed. You will be searched, which is usually just a ‘pat down’ by an officer of the same sex as you. The police should only strip search you if there is good reason to believe that you are concealing an item such as a weapon or evidence or drugs.


3. You will be taken to the police station. You may be transported to the station alone, or you may be taken along with other arrestees. In mass arrest situations in the past, the police have used buses for multiple arrestees, and there have been very long waits before arrival at the police station. 


4. Upon arrival at the police station, you will get ‘booked in’ at the front desk. All your personal belongings will be taken from you, including your watch and any jewellery. These are listed on the custody record and usually you will be asked to sign to say that the list is correct. You do not have to sign, but if you do, you should sign immediately below the last line, so that the police can’t add something incriminating to the list. You should also refuse to sign for something which isn’t yours, or which could be incriminating. They will ask you all kinds of questions about who you are and what you do. You do not have to give any details when arrested or at the police station.

All the rights of detainees and obligations of the police towards detainees are contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Codes of practice. Or PACE codes as abbreviated. You have a right to a copy of the codes of practice as well as writing materials. 


5. If you do decide to give your details, we recommend only giving your name, address, and date of birth. You are only legally obliged to give your details if and when you appear in court. However, giving your details during arrest could speed up your release from the station.


6. They will take your photograph. You don’t have to comply, but they are allowed to use “reasonable force” to view your face.


7. They will take your fingerprints and DNA. Again, you don’t have to comply, but they are allowed to use “reasonable force” to take the fingerprints and photo and if you resist you may face further charges of police assault. If you are arrested for Breach of the Peace you do not need to give any of your details to the police at all nor can your DNA or fingerprints be taken as this is not a criminal offence. 


8. You may then be put in a cell.


9. You have the right not to be held incommunicado which means you have a right to have a nominated person informed of your arrest. You have the right to free legal advice. You also have the right to have an “appropriate adult” if you are (or appear to be) under 18 or have learning difficulties or mental health issues, even when undiagnosed. Police guidance, however, is that if they know your chosen appropriate adult is aware of your actions in advance, or involved in the protest, they are unlikely to be accepted as an appropriate adult. The alternative is for the police to arrange for someone to attend from an independent appropriate adult service.


10. You have the right to have a solicitor present during an interview. We recommend that you use a solicitor with experience of supporting activists. If you have a solicitor coming, refuse to be interviewed before they arrive. If they can’t be contacted within a couple of hours then you may have to just give a 'no comment' interview, where you simply answer 'no comment' to all questions put to you in interview. As a minor or someone who the police deem to be a 'vulnerable adult', you also have the right to have your appropriate adult present during interview.


11. Do not use the duty solicitor; they are unlikely to have experience in protest law, and so instead you should ask for an experienced protest solicitor.  If you are looking for a local protest-experienced solicitor please refer to XRs Bustcards, or if you aren’t part of XR, check out Netpol’s list If there isn’t one near you it’s ok to call the nearest one or a London based one.


12. You also have the right to:


  • A copy of the PACE codes (see above). 
  • A translator if English isn’t your first language.
  • Food that meets your dietary requirements – e.g. vegetarian/vegan/religious requirements
  • A doctor if feeling unwell
  • A warm cell, including blankets and cups of tea/coffee.
  • Paper and a pencil to write with (unless the officer considers you might harm yourself with it)


13. You should prepare yourself for boredom, isolation, bad food, frustration, mild sensory deprivation, distressing noises from other prisoners, a bright light on 24/7 and being kept under constant surveillance. The police will also take your watch and jewellery from you so you may find it disorientating not knowing what time it is. Remember, you can only be held for up to 24 hours (except for some more serious offences – fairly uncommon in protest related cases).


14. You may be released in the early hours of the morning - so make sure you have enough money (preferably cash and not card) with you to get safely home; or that someone is available to pick you up and that you have their phone number (memorised or written on your arm/leg).