Detainees at police stations reportedly had to wait hours to see a solicitor on New Year's Day, after the Legal Aid Agency's call centre system went down.
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, detainees are entitled to free and independent advice at any time while in police detention. Solicitors are deployed through the Defence Solicitor Call Centre. However, police reportedly had to call solicitors directly on New Year's Day after the website went down at midnight for nearly five hours.
A spokesperson for the agency said: 'An issue with the digital service for the Defence Solicitor Call Centre in the early hours of New Year’s Day was quickly resolved and the telephone service remained operational throughout.'
The internal IT application and external-facing website are now working.
Last week's incident is not the first time that the DSCC portal has experienced problems. Planned maintenance work, as the IT application was handed over from previous supplier Capita to HGS UK, and a higher-than-expected volume of calls last summer caused disruption. A few days later the Law Society met the agency and HGS UK who, Chancery Lane said at the time, 'acknowledged that the service has fallen far below acceptable standards'.
The Society has written again to the agency demanding an urgent meeting. Simon Davis, president, said: 'Over the holiday period we have heard countless stories of detainees kept waiting for hours because the police cannot get through to the call centre. Solicitors are sent to incorrect police stations or given incorrect client details.
'This is a contracted company paid out of public money. Their failings have a direct impact on the ability of people detained in police stations to access justice. It is impacting on the livelihoods of our members.'
'It is unclear why there was no contingency plan or back-up system in place when the "outage" occurred over the New Year holiday. One would assume this would be a basic requirement for the provider of such an important nationwide service.'
Solicitors are advised to keep a detailed record of any losses incurred, and to submit them as formal complaints with requests for compensation.