Concerns raised by the Law Society about the safety of solicitors in police custody cells have led the Metropolitan police to implement changes.
Wimbledon firm Burnley-Jones Bate & Co raised the issue of the personal safety of solicitors conducting interviews with clients in locked custody rooms at Croydon police station. Chancery Lane took the matter up with the Met, which has now agreed to alter procedures for solicitors visiting clients in a number of police buildings in greater London.
A solicitor visiting a client in a consultation room in a police building is routinely locked in with the client. A Met spokeswoman stressed that detainees are ‘thoroughly risk-assessed’ before being left with a solicitor and each room has a glass wall to enable custody staff to view meetings. This allows solicitors to signal to custody staff if they wish to leave the room by using a buzzer. In addition, there is also an alarm system.
There have been no incidents where the safety of solicitors has been compromised, she said. However, after liaising with the Society, the Met has agreed to changes including linking existing alarm buttons in consultation rooms to a door-release system.
She added: ‘We recognise there may be an occasion where a detainee acts out of character and considered new procedures that are now being implemented to link the existing alarm system to a door release.’
The Met said that the problem affects new-build custody centres, including Croydon, Leyton, Barking, Heathrow and Wandsworth. Work has begun to install the new system. Custody suites scheduled for rebuilding will have the new system installed as standard.
Chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee Richard Atkinson said he is pleased that the Met responded positively to the representations made by the Law Society.
He said: ‘Clearly the original arrangements which saw a solicitor being locked in a consultation room were very worrying but the new provisions which have been put in place now mean that the solicitors’ safety is better protected.’