Peer’s jaundiced views and duty solicitor protocol: your letters to the editor
Peer’s jaundiced views
Lord Blencathra obviously has a jaundiced view of lawyers (‘Windrush victims do not need to instruct a lawyer’, Seen & Heard, 18 May). He also seems omniscient, since he claims that ‘we all know’ that no win, no fee lawyers ‘rip off’ clients.
I wonder if his offensive views might just be coloured by ideology. After all, why on earth would this government be concerned with access to justice for the vulnerable and underprivileged? What he signally fails to appreciate is that completion of the Windrush form is just the beginning. With this, as in all immigration matters, the training and expertise of lawyers is invaluable in helping a client navigate the vagaries of the system, and any obstacles placed in their way by that model of efficiency and competence called the Home Office.
Dr Stephen Pacey
Retired immigration judge, North Muskham, Nottinghamshire
Duty solicitor protocol falls short
At this time it is only natural that concerted efforts be made to ‘keep the wheels of justice turning’ through, among other things, the devising of ‘protocols’ for the continued involvement of duty solicitors/accredited representatives, especially at police stations.
Most recently, the CPS, NPCC, Law Society, CLSA and LCCSA have published an interview protocol acknowledging (paragraph 7) that ‘the Covid-19 crisis involves the application of PACE Code C (Revised Code of Practice for the Detention, Treatment and Questioning of Persons by Police Officers) in circumstances which are unlikely to have previously been anticipated’.
On initially considering the document I had (and retain) grave misgivings concerning certain guidance contained therein, namely that ‘legal advice for suspects should take place whenever possible over the telephone (for legal advice) and by video link for interviews with suspects’.
My view as a duty solicitor is that I would never contemplate such an approach. It appears to completely discount the importance of the ‘psychological dynamic’ resulting from personal professional contact and to be arguably at variance with a suspect’s right to be advised by a solicitor at the police station (see PACE Code C 6B, Notes for Guidance).
Having checked the position regarding revision of PACE codes, I find the procedure to be set out in section 67 of PACE. This provides for the secretary of state to consult, among other organisations, (4)(c) the General Council of the Bar and (4)(e) the [Chartered] Institute of Legal Executives.
The interview protocol gives no indication of either organisation having been consulted by its framers.
An attached letter states (paragraph 3): ‘The Home Office has also been consulted. The signatories to this protocol accept that the practices and procedures contained here amount to a reasonable interpretation of the law to enable the rights and interests of detained persons to be protected during the unprecedented circumstances of the coronavirus crisis.’
Setting aside the arguable issue of ‘reasonableness’, consulting the Home Office is, with respect, insufficient.
Section 67 requires the steps specified therein to be taken by the secretary of state before they seek parliamentary approval for proposed code revision.
In my view, telephone consultations and video interviews, when an officer is at the same police station as a suspect, would, to be ‘PACE proof’, require the activation of section 67.
Was this approach considered by any of the signatories to the interview protocol?
If not, is it the Society’s intention to seek parliamentary approval for the interview protocol by the statutory means provided?
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
The 27 April news item about the solicitor spending two and a half hours on the phone in one day waiting for the courts system to respond during the current pandemic is good news.
At least it is getting better – only two and a half hours. I have known people never get through. They give up.
I suppose it could be worse. We could get through in five minutes – to a foreign call centre.
Incidentally, I know of one case where a client acting as litigant in person did manage to get through to the court to ask which form they should use for a particular application. The court could not tell the person which form to use because they could not give legal advice. How on earth is advising which form to use ‘giving legal advice’? Has anyone else experienced something similar? Perhaps a little training is needed.
Name and address withheld on request
I see the government is hoping to crash through draconian and counterproductive anti-terrorism measures ‘mid-coronavirus’. The hope is that the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill will enjoy a scrutiny-lite passage through parliament and emerge essentially unscathed.
Independent reviewer Jonathan Hall QC, Liberty and Amnesty International all have it right. The planned inroads would:
- inflict grievous bodily harm upon the rule of law and due process;
- demonise and antagonise swathes of our fellow citizens by reason merely of their ethnicity;
- be socially divisive and damaging to community harmony;
- greatly diminish the prospects of rehabilitation for a specific category of offenders who are often receptive to more inclusive concepts of citizenship; and
- offer a valuable recruitment tool to dedicated sponsors of terrorism gifted the opportunity to attribute the new laws to anti-Muslim bias and institutional racism.
This latest threat to every citizen’s inalienable rights in our supposedly still mature and civilised society must be resisted at all costs.
Former chair, Law Society Criminal Law Committee, Kings Heath, Birmingham