Interviews are normally conducted at the police station by police officers, but more often other prosecuting authorities such as local councils and government bodies are using the facilities as well as conducting interviews in their own offices.
Nicholls & Nicholls understand that having accusations being made against you and being at a police station can cause a huge amount of stress and anxiety especially if your liberty has been taken from you.
Knowing your rights can make all the difference when an investigation is being conducted, which is why you should always seek advice from a legal professional with expertise in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and interview procedures. This Act is also used by other law enforcement and regulatory bodies when they conduct interviews in their offices.
During a civil or criminal investigation conducted by the police or another organisation, you will always be cautioned: ‘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.’
The information in the caution can be crucial to a case and legal advice is very important. If you provide an account in interview and then change your account at a later date and the matter goes to Court, then the Judge or Jury may wonder why the account has changed. On most occasions, this can have a detrimental impact on a case.
The caution also states that you have a right to silence. This means that you do not need to answer the questions that are asked during the interview process, but, again, if the case proceeds to court, a Judge or Jury may wonder why you remained silent. There are lots of different reasons why someone may not answer questions. It is commonly thought that the only reason someone would not answer questions is if they are guilty. However, this is completely untrue.
As an example, it may be that the investigators have withheld your right to legal advice. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your lawyer isn’t present, but that they haven’t allowed you the opportunity to obtain advice on the questions they are asking. This is a fundamental right and therefore remaining silent until you know the case against you can be completely understandable in these instances.
Another example would be if a company director is accused of fraud. It may be that remaining silent until you are able to conduct your own enquiries and understand the allegations in full is the better course of action in these circumstances.
Nicholls & Nicholls can also assist in any attendance that is held on a voluntary and or pre-arranged basis. Although the interview will still happen, in these instances you will not be held in a secure cell within the custody suite at the police station. Furthermore, your fingerprints and photograph are not taken.
Interviews Under Caution
As many of the below bodies are regulatory, they have limited or no power of arrest. As such, attendance is often not mandatory, but voluntary. However, attendance is highly advisable as declining to be interviewed will lead the investigating authority making its decision on whether to proceed based solely on the evidence they have gathered and without the investigated person having the chance to offer a defence or explanation for their own conduct.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)
Interviews under caution conducted by the DWP are generally concerned with investigating suspected benefit fraud, or a client attempting to gain fraudulent access to tax credits. These interviews will be conducted by the Counter Fraud and Compliance Directorate (CFCD) arm of the DWP. Benefit fraud must be intentional, so the CFCD will be trying to establish three main points:
- Whether there is something the interviewee should have told them which could have affected their benefits;
- Whether the interviewee has deliberately misled the relevant body (including by omission); and
- That the interviewee understood that they would get more benefits as a result of not providing the right information.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
The HSE is the regulatory body primarily concerned with enforcing standards of working conditions in the UK. As such, its investigations will centre on people and corporations who are suspected of breaching standards of workplace health, safety and welfare regulations. The HSE also prosecutes companies who fail to adhere to improvement or prohibition notices issued as part of an earlier investigation into health and safety law breaches.
It is common for business directors/owners and employees of businesses to find them receiving a request to attend an interview regarding breaches that may have occurred in the work environment. Failure to engage with this entity could lead to police involvement and criminal prosecution so a request should not be simply ignored.
It is also extremely important to note that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 allows an inspector to access your workplace without your permission. It is therefore always important to ensure you are completely up to date with the regulations to prevent any issues if this occurs. If a serious incident occurs at work, an inspector can attend on immediate notification. You should contact Nicholls & Nicholls and seriously consider whether a lawyer should be present as police will no doubt follow shortly after and request witness statements. We have expertise in dealing with these situations and controlling the investigation to ensure that all staff and directors have legal advice in an often frightening and emotive situation.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)
The ONR is the regulatory body that oversees matters related to nuclear power and the wider associated sectors within industry and the military. As such, the ONR investigates potential breaches of specific pieces of legislation, which regulate and attempt to ensure the safety of the UK’s nuclear power industry. ONR interviews under caution will attempt to establish whether an individual and body was responsible for conduct which may have fallen below statutory standards.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
The HMRC conducts investigations on a large number of different areas. These include criminal matters relating to tax and tax evasion, money laundering, related fraud and illegal importation and exportation of goods. HMRC investigations will often be civil for most cases of failure to pay correct tax but may be criminal in the event that further fraud or illegal conduct is suspected. In these cases, an interview under caution will be an important step in HMRC establishing whether any fraud or similar dishonest or unlawful conduct has actually taken place.
There is now a significant increase in requests for interview by HMRC due to alleged covid loan and grant frauds. During the pandemic, Business Bounce-back Loans (BBL) were almost automatically granted to businesses. CBILS (another type of loan) were also offered to businesses. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme was backed by the government, although both were applied for through the bank. Businesses who fail to pay back either of these loans, or go into liquidation or bankruptcy, have found the directors facing requests for interview due to a possible fraudulent intent. As the government effectively guaranteed these loans with the banking industry, they are liable for the cost if the business doesn’t pay. It is for this reason that they have now created a separate unit within HMRC to investigate whether any of the claims were made in bad faith and with dishonest intent. If a letter is received in these situations, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Bodies acting on behalf of local authorities may conduct interviews under caution on a wide range of possible topics. Some of the most common include housing and rent, breaches of trading standards, and investigations into low school attendance. Interviews conducted by local authority may sometimes be conducted by letter, with written answers submitted to written questions, in lieu of a face-to-face interview.
Landlords or agents may be asked to attend an interview under caution with regards to a property they let, manage or control. Suspected offences may include failing to hold a licence under the Housing Act 2004, a breach of HMO management regulations, or failure to comply with a prohibition order or improvement notice. The council will likely ask questions about the ownership and management of the property, and possibly about the interviewee’s portfolio more generally.
Local authorities also enforce ‘trading standards’, covering business related issues such as licensing, unfair commercial practices, selling age restricted products to minors, product and food safety, counterfeit goods, correct labelling & descriptions of products, correct use of weights and measurements, and fraudulent activity. As such, trading standards interviews will examine the conduct of your business with regard to one of the above listed categories. It is not uncommon for a local authority employee to attend a business unannounced, asking questions and conducting covert operations to check practices of the company.
At a school attendance interview, the local authority will be asking about the family circumstances of the pupil in question and searching for reasons for their lack of attendance. As these interviews are made before a final decision to prosecute has been made, attendance is highly recommended, as prompt compliance with the local authority may prevent any potential prosecution going forwards. If prosecution occurs and is repeated, this type of offending does become imprisonable.
The Environment Agency
The Environment Agency ensures that environmental standards are maintained. It also oversees prosecutions that target individuals who are allegedly responsible for environmental damage due to emissions of environmentally harmful agents. Many Environment Agency prosecutions target incorrect disposal of harmful waste products and concerns around water quality. As with many regulatory bodies, The Environment Agency has no powers of arrest, and so may only invite suspects to interview.
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
DEFRA previously handled prosecutions involving environment and food safety. DEFRA’s functions as a prosecuting agency were transferred to the Crown Prosecution Service in 2011 and DEFRA has not handled prosecutorial work related to the work of its various bodies since then.
The Insolvency Service
The Insolvency Service Legal Service Directorate (LSD) Criminal Investigations Team conducts investigations into those who have acted illegally during insolvency or the life of a public limited company. As such, an interview conducted by the LSD will seek to establish whether information supplied by the interviewee during insolvency/bankruptcy proceedings is correct, and to examine the legality of actions of company officers. Recently, the Insolvency Service has carried out many investigations into allegedly fraudulent claims of Coronavirus relief funds through the Government’s Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS). In such cases, the LSD will seek to establish whether information provided about the size and operations of a company when applying for a BBLS loan is correct and thus that claims for BBLS loans have not been fraudulently made.
The Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), formerly the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)
The IOPC investigates allegations of police misconduct. At the beginning of an investigation into an incident, a decision is made as to whether the concerned police officers/staff are witnesses or subjects. This is subject to change. Interviews of officers/staff designated as subjects to investigation by the IOPC will either be conducted under a misconduct caution, or where appropriate, a criminal caution. Officers being interviewed under a misconduct caution are allowed representation from a police friend, such as a federation representative. For interviews under the criminal caution, officers are entitled to representation from their solicitor and police friend. This interview is a chance for the investigated party to tell the IOPC the facts of the incident and give their account of what happened.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
The FCA is the chief body tasked with overseeing providers of financial services and operation of financial markets in the UK. As such, they may be involved in prosecutions under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, Financial Services Act 2012 and others that regulate the financial industry and providers of financial services. As with many of the other bodies on this list, the FCA is much more likely to pursue civil or regulatory investigations over criminal ones, as criminal prosecutions are much costlier and more time-consuming. The FCA may also issue cautions in lieu of criminal prosecution. Frequently these have a financial penalty attached. Such cautions are kept on record by the Financial Conduct Authority and Police National Computer.
The Financial Reporting Council (FRC)
The FRC is tasked with regulating auditors, accountants and actuaries. The FRC has some enforcement powers but has been criticised as too passive in its use of these enforcement powers. As a result of this, the government announced in 2019 that it would be setting up a new regulatory body, the Audit Reporting and Governance Authority, to be fully implemented in 2023. This body is being set up with the express goal of increasing enforcement and increasing accountability in the auditing and accounting industries. The implementation of this body makes it more likely that an increase in criminal actions will be seen in this sector in coming years.
The Pensions Regulator (TPR)
There are various criminal offences associated with managing workplace pensions and enrolling employees and these are investigated by the Pensions Regulator. TPR may investigate both individuals and companies. The questions that they ask will vary based on the offence being charged. In general, TPR will attempt to find out the investigated party’s relationship, duties and proximity to the employer, the scheme, and the act or failure to act; the extent of their involvement or influence, and any benefit they received due to their failure to act.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC)
The Care Quality Commission is the regulatory body of health and social care in England. As such, prosecutions brought by the CQC will be for breaches of industry regulations such as with breaches to consent, failure in duty of care or duty of candour and others. Whether the CQC prosecutes will depend on the type of regulation breached, but prosecutions are likely to entail an interview under caution in the early stages of the investigation.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA)
The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) is a division of the FSA which investigates crimes relating to food safety. It was founded in the wake of the 2013 horse meat scandal and prosecutes food crime as serious crime. It lists examples of food crime as ‘use of stolen food in the supply chain, unlawful slaughter, diversion of unsafe food, adulteration, substitution or misrepresentation of food, and document fraud.’ Prosecutions for such action occurring in the food industry will be carried out by the FSA, and the content of interviews under caution will be dependent on the alleged conduct of the investigated party.
Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)
Commercial drivers may be asked to stop by the DVSA for a spot check to be performed on their vehicle. The DVSA officer will check no regulations are being breached. This will include checking the vehicle is roadworthy, checking appropriate roads are being carried and secured correctly, looking at tachograph records, and checking your occupational driving licence. Failure to stop when told to do so is a separate criminal offence. If the DVSA suspects an offence has been committed or a regulation breached, they may conduct an interview under caution to gather more information. See Transport and Motoring for further information.
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