Terms & Explanations
The police use a range of different terms in everyday language, as do solicitors and other agencies involved with any business with the police.
Whether as a victim, witness or someone supporting them, a clear understanding of what is taking place is important. Likewise, a person arrested and their friends or family may equally be unfamiliar with some of the terminology used.
The following section contains a broad selection of explanations in alphabetical order with a view to provide an overview of general terms to help in understanding police processes.
More information is available under the separate headings from the menu on the left of this page.
Appropriate adults (Click for more information)
Some people in custody require additional support, such as a person under 18 or an adult who may be vulnerable due to conditions such as mental disorders or learning difficulties. Appropriate adults are called to the station as an important safeguard and support to assist the person - for example, to help them understand what is happening during the investigative stages such as interviews.
In addition to interviews, appropriate adults are required to countersign any formal documents such as bail, charges or consent forms.
The appropriate adult is not there to simply act as an observer. Their role is supportive - to help communication between the person, the police and others and to ensure the police act fairly respecting their rights.
They assist and advise but they do not provide legal advice. If the person in custody refuses to have legal advice, the appropriate adult has the right to request a solicitor be called.
An ‘appropriate adult’ can be any of the following:
- Family member
- Social worker
- Friend aged 18 or over
- A representative from an approved volunteer service
Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) (Click for more information)
A professional authorised to make assessments, decisions and applications under the Mental Health Act 1983. Usually a Social Worker with specialist training but can include other trained mental health professionals.
Bail (Click for more information)
The temporary release of a person suspected or accused of an offence with a duty to surrender themselves to a court or a police station in the future. Bail may be unconditional or with conditions which restrict activity, contact with others or frequenting specific locations. Additionally, a sum of money (called a Surety) may be required and lodged to guarantee their appearance.
Failing to answer bail or complying with bail conditions can cause a person to be arrested and provide grounds to refuse bail.
There’s a difference between 'bail before being charged' where the investigation is ongoing and 'bail where a person is charged'. Before being charged, bail is given to return to a police station at a date and time and this is sometimes referred to ‘section 47 bail’. After being charged it will be bail to appear at court for the offence(s).
Captor Spray (incapacitant) (Click for more information)
Captor spray is used by trained and authorised police officers in appropriate circumstances when a person is considered to be a risk to themselves or others.
The spray consists of Nonivamide at a concentration of 0.3% in a 50/50 solvent of ethanol and water with a Nitrogen propellant. Further information is available under the Medical & Wellbeing section.
Caution (Formal) when arrested or interviewed (Click for more information)
This is a formal statement a person is told when arrested, or at the start of an interview:
“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later reply on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
This is a requirement by law and there is a slight variation when someone is formally subject to a criminal prosecution procedure e.g. charged.
It’s referred to as a ‘caution’ because an individual is told to be careful of what they may or may not wish to say, as it may have consequences.
Caution (Warning) (Click for more information)
Where an offence has been committed and the individual admits responsibility, there are occasions where a Police warning can be given called a ‘Caution’. This is a formal alternative to prosecuting where taking the case to court may not be the most appropriate or proportionate solution.
Persons between 10 and 17 years may receive a similar conclusion to an investigation referred to as a Youth Caution, but where the Youth Justice Bureau will also be involved. They will conduct an assessment and consider an intervention programme aimed to prevent re-offending.
A person who refuses to accept a Caution will likely be charged and the matter will be heard at Magistrates Court. Independent legal advice is available to people at a Police Station if they are not sure.
A Caution is not a conviction but will be recorded on the Police National Computer and may be used as evidence of previous criminal behaviour if the person goes to court for another offence. A Caution will be part of the Disclosure and Barring Service where checks are made in connection with potential employment and a record of a Caution may have an impact on permission to visit or reside in some other countries.
Certain old and minor Cautions may not be subject to disclosure, for example to a prospective employer. However, this does not include Cautions or convictions for specified serious offences.
More information is available on the Government website.
Conditional Caution (Warning) (Click for more information)
This is the same as a Police Caution applicable to adults and persons under 18 (as Youth Conditional Cautions) but with conditions attached issued at the discretion of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Conditions may be attached to repair damage, apologise, to seek help with problems such as alcohol or drug dependencies and to improve behaviour to prevent re-offending. They are utilised to benefit victims, communities and prevent further offences committed.
The same as for a Caution, a Conditional Caution will be recorded on the Police National Computer.
Charged (Click for more information)
To be formally accused of committing an offence where the offence is read out according to a form of words under law. Generally it means the investigation is complete and it progresses to court. A written copy of the charge is also provided.
Custody record (Click for more information)
This is a formal document recording all matters relating to a person in custody. It contains many aspects of police activity from the outset including formally authorising detention, health and welfare matters relating to the person, property, records of what rights have been offered and utilised (e.g. solicitors), medical activity and any other authorities and procedures relating to the person whilst in custody.
A solicitor or appropriate adult is entitled to look at a custody record in connection with a person in custody.
All persons who have been held in police detention are entitled to a copy of their custody record after they have been released, which will be provided as soon as practicable. Any solicitor or appropriate adult involved with the detainee at the time is also entitled to have a copy. This entitlement lasts for 12 months since the date of release.
Custody sergeant (Click for more information)
A police sergeant specially trained to work in the custody unit. They make decisions in relation to management and actions in the unit and decide what happens to people arrested.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) (Click for more information)
The CPS represents specialist lawyers and barristers who prosecute offences at Magistrates and Crown Courts. They also provide advice to police during the investigative stages and have different specialisation depending on the nature of the offence.
There are occasions where the Police will decide on formal prosecutions but other offences require the authority of the CPS, where they decide to take the matter to court. The CPS website provides more information.
Detention (Click for more information)
Where a custody officer (sergeant or above) decides a person will be detained after arrest. Even though they have rights, this means they have been deprived of their liberty and will remain at the custody unit until such time as the custody officer authorises the person's release.
The time permitted by law to keep a person in detention is limited - the police work within timescales where reviews take place and other authorities are required to keep a person in police custody.
Detention officer (Click for more information)
A member of the police support staff specially trained to work in the custody unit. They support the custody sergeant in the running of the unit, monitoring the wellbeing of detainees, and attending to their needs and welfare such as food, messages, rights and documentation procedures.
Domestic Violence Protection Notices & Orders (Click for more information)
A Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) is a notice served by the police against a person who is aged 18 years or over, where the police reasonably believe they have been violent or has threatened violence against another and they need to be protected from them. Once served on the person, the matter will be heard at a magistrate’s court within a few days where the police apply for a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO).
If an order is made it will last for a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 28 days. The Order may:
- Stop him/her from entering, and being within a certain distance, of a home.
- Stop him/her from making the victim leave or be excluded from the home.
- Require him/her to leave the home.
Fixed penalty notice (Click for more information)
A document issued to a person who has committed an offence to pay a fixed fee within a set period normally within 21 or 28 days. Alternatively the person may elect to appeal or contest the issuing of the notice and have the matter heard at magistrates’ court.
The issue of a penalty notice does not constitute a ‘criminal record’, but notices for certain offences are recorded on the Police National Computer and may be disclosed on an ‘Enhanced Criminal Records Disclosure’ by the Criminal Records Bureau if applicable to certain occupations sought.
It’s important to keep and look after any documentation provided as part of a penalty notice when issued as the loss of them may render a court hearing inevitable, combined with the fact they provide all the necessary information on what to do.
Independent Custody visitors (Click for more information)
Visitors working on a voluntary basis, who attend custody to make sure people are treated properly, check their welfare and have access to their rights. They are approved members of the community, independent of the police.
They attend unannounced to check on matters and detainees and may wish to speak with persons in custody. However, nobody is under any obligation to speak to them should they prefer not to.
Interviews (Click for more information)
A formal interview is the questioning of a person regarding their involvement or suspected involvement in a criminal offence where a caution is given at the start.
An interview at a police station is recorded electronically onto disc but there are occasions when this is not possible. For example, when an interview is conducted elsewhere and it will be handwritten by the officer conducting the interview.
Police can ask questions on day to day matters as part of their normal duties outside the context of an interview to establish information or facts. For example, clarification of their identity or questions relating to safety or wellbeing.
Juveniles (Click for more information)
Anyone under the age of 17 years of age. However, a ‘young person’ is extended to include a person under the age of 18 years where they are provided with an appropriate adult in custody and their parent or guardian would be told of their arrest. These changes mirror procedures already in existence to protect 10 to 16 year olds.
Police Medical Health Professional (Click for more information)
A clinically qualified person working within practice of their professional body but also trained and specialised for work within the Police Service, consisting of medical doctors (referred to as Police Surgeons) and custody nurses. They are available to provide assessment, care, address and record any injuries, medication and treatment as appropriate. This may also involve referral to other specialists, such as recommending the person in custody is transferred to hospital.
Searches in custody (Click for more information)
The police have a duty to establish what a person has with them on arrival at custody and this will involve the person being searched.
Items will be kept by police if they could be used to cause harm to anyone, damage to property, interfere with evidence, help someone escape or if they are evidence in relation to any offence.
The way people are searched and by who are governed - for example, the officer conducting a search will be of the same sex. There are exceptions to this such as when a person undergoing gender reassignment may have preferences as to the gender of the officer searching them in connection with personal dignity.
There are different searches conducted which depends on the circumstances or concerns. Strip searches or intimate searches are authorised where this is the only means to establish what a person may have concealed on them. Such searches are recorded on the custody record. Please see further information under Records, Samples & Searches.
Solicitor (Click for more information)
A solicitor who holds a current practising certificate, or an accredited or probationary representative included on the register of representatives maintained by the Legal Aid Agency.
Taser (Click for more information)
A device used by specially trained police officers in appropriate circumstances which passes short pulses of electricity into the body causing muscles to contract. Further information is available in the Medical & Wellbeing section.
Vulnerable person (Click for more information)
An individual who may be suffering from a mental disorder, whether temporary or permanent; a person who has difficulty understanding, speaking or expressing themselves due to a diagnosed condition or has some other cognitive impairment such as learning difficulties.
Youth Justice Bureau (Click for more information)
An agency that deals with young people who commit crime and anti-social behaviour. They consist of different services such as the Police, Health, Education, Social Services, Careers Wales, North Wales Housing and the local authority.
Through a positive approach they seek to prevent a young person committing further offences and potentially harming their social and educational development or health. This involves an assessment process, interaction and signposting to relevant agencies. They also provide supportive advice to families.
When the Youth Justice Bureau is involved, the support of families is very important in assisting the agency to reduce the likelihood of the young person committing further crime or antisocial behaviour. This can help them develop and reduce the potential of experiencing problems in their early life.