There are several ways of finding yourself Going to Jail. You may have committed a crime which carries the possibility of a custodial sentence, you may have failed to pay a fine, comply with a condition imposed by the court or just be remanded in prison awaiting trial or sentence. Whichever it is, you are advised to seek legal advice from a qualified solicitor and to exercise your right of representation in court. This web site is not the correct place to find "legal" advice and instead you should look in the local telephone directory for addresses of solicitors.
In our experience your "family solicitor" (the one that did your house conveyance or wrote your will) is usually not the best person to undertake your defence on criminal charges. These charges might range from a motoring offence through to murder or complex legal actions such as prosecutions by the Department of Trade and Industry or the DSS or Employment Agency. Whatever the charges, or the matter being investigated, you are innocent until you are found guilty by a court.
It is best to consult a solicitor who specialises in the particular issue you are facing. Remember whatever you tell a solicitor is in confidence and will not be passed to the police.
There are also some circumstances to be heard in a civil court which could land you in jail, these include persons making applications for asylum in the UK.
Leading to your arrest
There are usually a few stages leading to an arrest. The most common one is to be asked questions by a Police Officer and your answers noted in his notebook. It is often believed that this is not evidence but "contemporaneous notes" can be used in evidence in a court of law and are often used to contradict statements made later. Unless you are sure you are in the right it is usually best to say nothing - for example at the scene of a road accident. If you have been involved in an incident you should take notes as soon as possible after the event - for example an argument culminating in a fight during which someone gets injured. These notes will usually be taken as a better account of the incident than someone who relies on his memory days or weeks after an event.
In some minor matters such as some motoring offences you might well be interviewed at home. A statement is being taken by a Police Officer. It is usually as well to ask if the statement is being taken as a suspect or as a witness. You have the right to have the matter deferred until you can consult a solicitor. The Police Officer will usually try to convince you that a solicitor is unnecessary "for such a trivial matter" or he may well arrest you. Do not take the word of the Police Officer - he is out to get a conviction. You also have the right to submit your own statement and remain silent afterwards. Although this will bring howls of protest from the Police Officer that "it is not on the correct form etc." this can be a useful ploy to show co-operation with the Police without saying too much.
Whether you are "helping police with their enquiries" (an invitation to attend the local Police Station), been formally arrested, or charged, the effect is the same. You are at the Police Station and the police will be trying to get information out of you to help in the Prosecution. Remember the onus of proof is on the Prosecution - you do not have to help them prove the case against you or anyone else. Even if you know you are guilty you do not have to help the Police and you do have the right to be accompanied by a Solicitor. There are time limits on how long the Police can hold you at the station for questioning.
Unfortunately the law on the right of silence changed recently and whereas previously it was acceptable to remain silent and this would not adversely affect your defence, now that silence can be interpreted in the court and can be detrimental. However, you do still have the right to remain silence.
An increasingly popular way to deal with the Police is to present your own statement and then refuse to ask questions. You can argue that all you have to say is in the statement and that you have nothing to add. You can then argue in court, if it goes that far.
Do ensure you consult a solicitor who specialises in the matter at issue.
Several other agencies and not just the police have the right to bring charges. In child protection cases - the NSPCC, animal welfare - RSPCA, Social Security and Benefits cases - DSS, non-payment of Customs Duty (eg illegal importation of tobacco and alcohol - non payment of duty) - Customs and Excise, non-payment of Tax eg making false returns - Inland Revenue and there are others. However the Police will usually be involved in providing interview facilities and secure accommodation to hold you - a cell.
Once interviewed or as a method of getting you down to the Police Station against your will, you are liable to face arrest. This can take place anywhere but often takes place at a Police Station following interview. It can also be a device to hold you or to release you on Police Bail with conditions - eg surrender of Passport or a surety ie where someone agrees to pay money to the court if you skip bail.
When arrested the Police Officer must say why you have been arrested and read the specific charges against you. He will ask you if you understand. He will caution you. ie "You are not obliged to say anything etc". He will ask you for a response. At this stage remain silent.
You might be remanded in custody - held in a police cell pending appearance in court when you could be remanded to Prison or you could be released on bail to appear back at the Police Station at a later date. Alternatively your case can be accelerated to court and your appearance and trial can take place very quickly indeed. This is often the case with "football hooligans" but your rights are still the same.
Your behaviour leading up to trial can affect the likelihood of you being sent to prison or your early release on licence or Home Detention Curfew - HDC or tagging. You must respond to all court appearances by being there on time, do not commit any further offences or respond to provocation by others or allow the natural instinct of revenge to take over. You might find it easier to just say "no comment" when friends and others ask you questions. Blame the solicitor saying you are under strict instructions not to discuss the case with others. After the initial difficulty it does get easier to make no comment and eventually your friends and others will respect your silence.
The Press may well take an interest in your case. The Police say they do not talk to the Press but few really believe that. There have been a number of instances where Police Officers are believed to been questioned about leaks and Police Officers taking back-handers but action rarely seems to be taken perhaps because fellow Police Offices have little interest in stopping the practice or grassing on their colleagues. It could simply be that your accusers or friends have contacted the press. How ever they find out, the Press will certainly get to know. If you appear in court the appearance lists are public and of course in the vast majority of cases Press Reporters will be present.
The local press can be particularly annoying and your neighbours, friends and enemies might well help them (either deliberately or unwittingly) to get the story or photograph. A typical way is for a reporter to come calling but at the gate is a camera man with a long lens ready to snap you. You could also be photographed walking along the road or coming out of court or the Police Station. On the television we often see people with blankets over their heads being guided carefully into waiting Police Cars or Prison vehicles. There are rarely good reason for this and an appearance in the local papers is quite short lived in the minds of readers. 6 weeks and the matter is forgotten. So, it is much better to cast off the blanket and walk confidently away from the court with an encouraging smile.
So, you have got plenty of friends. Well don't be too sure as you will find that you had two sorts of friends - those that were not your friends and those who are. The first sort run away at the slightest sign of trouble (colleagues at work, volunteer workers, colleagues at work, even members of your own family - the no smoke without fire groupies) and there are those who will never criticise but just be there when you need them. It might surprise you, that you may not even have known some of this second group of friends, they will come out of the wood work to get you through it, but whether you knew them or not, you will now know who your friends are.
My experience is that whether guilty or not, murderer of drug dealer, you will need support. Value that support and help them to help you. That does not mean telling them all about your case, "no comment" is still the best answer, but show your appreciation for what they are doing.
It takes great courage to stand by someone in trouble and even greater strengths to actually appear as a witness for you. It is much easier to run away.
I would just say, do not despise those who do not have the strength to be with you or to give the evidence in court that you know would help, not everyone has such courage. Forgive them for not helping and despise those who put pressure on them not to help. Those can be employers, police, the press and society in general.
The days, weeks and months leading up to your appearance in court can be difficult. Draw on the strength that the support of your family will bring. If you find yourself depressed then go without hesitation to see your Doctor. Whatever you say to your Doctor will again be in confidence but it is as well not to admit your guilt unless you are going to do so in court. Whilst Doctors are more reliable than the Police in keeping silent, there are some exceptions. Try to go about your daily business with confidence. You might find that you have to appear at the Police Station or at Court only to have the case deferred again. This can be a long and frustrating business but be patient. You might find that the charges change, some withdrawn and others added or one day the case might suddenly collapse altogether and you are a free man again.
If you are remanded in custody (ie held in prison) you do have the right to have your case reviewed in court and to ask again for release on bail. There have to be good reasons why you should be held in custody usually associated with the danger you are to other people, or others to you, this can particularly be the case in high public interest cases such as sexual offences against children It might just be the possibility that you will skip the country or not surrender your bail. ie appear in court in response to release on bail.
Are you a criminal?
Well maybe, but that has to be proved in a court of law. Until you have been to court you should not be in prison unless remanded there pending trial. In this country trial must take place during a reasonable period. Sadly what is reasonable to you will be at the short end of the scale compared with what the law sees as reasonable. It took my case two years to be concluded and that was a quite a light matter as cases go.