Suspects detained under latest terrorism legislation making its way through parliament could be questioned for an hour unaccompanied by a solicitor, the Law Society has warned. Even then, the onus is on the detainee to request a solicitor and consultations would not be private, Chancery Lane added.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill will have its second reading in the House of Lords next month. Chancery Lane has flagged up multiple concerns that appear to undermine suspects' rights to legal advice.
The bill states that a senior officer not directly involved in questioning a detainee must review the detention within the first hour. Before determining whether to authorise continued detention, the review officer must allow a solicitor representing the detainee who is available at the time of the review to make representations.
Christina Blacklaws, Society president, says the idea that detainees could potentially be questioned for an hour before being able to get legal advice 'runs against the usual standards of justice'.
Even when a solicitor is present, Blacklaws says the bill undermines a suspect's right to communicate confidentially with a lawyer. The bill states that a detainee may consult a solicitor 'only in the sight and hearing of a qualified officer'.
Blacklaws said: 'The confidential nature of communication between a lawyer and their client has long been affirmed as a fundamental human right. In our view, it is unacceptable that this principle should be undermined in such a serious case where legal advice is more important than ever.'
A senior officer would be able to stop a solicitor from being present during an interview 'if the officer is satisfied that the solicitor's behaviour during the interview would interfere with, or obstruct the conduct of the interview'.
Last week, home secretary Sajid Javid told Max Hill QC, the outgoing independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, that informing detainees of their rights at the earliest opportunity is a clear requirement under terrorism legislation. Javid, who was responding to Hill's report on the use of terrorism laws following the Westminster Bridge attack, said: 'This is something that is taken very seriously and in the majority of cases there is little or no delay.' However, 'practical issues' such as bringing several detainees into the same custody suite can cause delays.
Javid said: 'In these instances, a delay in informing detainees of their rights can be unavoidable due to pressures on the available custody staff, and the need to ensure that detainees who may know each other are kept separated and are not in the same areas at the same time. Additionally, where there are forensic processes that need to be completed such as taking photographs and fingerprints, these can take up to two hours and can contribute to delays in informing detainees of their rights.'