Criminal Justice Research Centre

Digital Legal Rights – User-Testing a Prototype App with Detainees in Police Custody

Dr Vicky Kemp, a Principal Research Fellow in the School of Law, and co-director of the Criminal Justice Research Centre, worked with Drs Elvira Perez and Ben Bedwell, from Horizon Digital Economy Research (Univeristy of Nottingham), in developing a prototype Police Station App.

The App is used to provide information on suspects’ legal rights and also on other information relevant to detainees. On police powers when conducting searches, for example, the taking of fingerprints and DNA evidence, setting out how long the police can hold suspects and what rights they have while being detained.

Suspects’ legal rights, as set out in the App, were based on the Home Office 10-page Notice of Rights and Entitlements. With permission from the police, the prototype App was tested on 100 detainees held in two large custody suites.

With the App having to contain a lot of information relevant to detainees, and without funding to incorporate videos and graphics, it was heavily text based and not user-friendly. Accordingly, it was mainly the section on ‘legal advice’ that was tested with detainees by Drs Vicky Kemp and Emma Oakley, a Lecturer from the School of Law at the University of Birmingham.

Research participants were asked questions about their legal rights, and how they exercised those rights and they were also asked to comment on their experiences in police custody. If the suspect did not want a solicitor, when pressing ‘No’ a number of options appear as to why they declined legal advice. The relevant option is then selected and information is provided which comments on the reason given. If the suspect indicated that they could not afford a solicitor, for instance, they are told that this is free. If they press they ‘do not need a solicitor’, they are told that the law is complicated and that it could assist them to speak to a solicitor. It is also pointed out that they can speak to a solicitor over the telephone.

There is a national steering group overseeing this project, chaired by Lord Carlile QC. This includes representatives from the Police, Law Society, Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Youth Justice Board, College of Policing, Legal Aid Agency, National Association of Appropriate Adults, Legal Education Foundation and representatives from children’s rights groups and academics.

It was agreed by the steering group that user-testing of the prototype App should be undertaken and the findings reported to the group for comment prior to publication. The draft report is currently with the group and it will be published online shortly.

legal advice

Screenshot of the ‘legal rights’ page of the App.


steering group

Second meeting of the Steering Group, including Lord Carlile QC (Chair) and Professor Michael Zander QC.

For further details see

Criminal Justice Research Centre

School of Law
Law and Social Sciences building
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

+44 (0)115 846 6239