Defence lawyers have welcomed a Supreme Court ruling confirming the right to legal advice at the police station, and warned that the Ministry of Justice will have to ‘think carefully’ before introducing any reform that seeks to limit it.

Giving judgment in an appeal from the Scottish courts, the Supreme Court (pictured) ruled that the Scottish law allowing suspects to be questioned for six hours without a lawyer present violated the right to a fair trial.

The Law Society of Scotland said the decision in the case of Cadder v Her Majesty’s Advocate, which could mean that thousands of criminal cases are open to appeal, marked a ‘sea change’ in the way suspects are dealt with in Scotland.

Guidelines allowing suspects to insist on legal advice before being interviewed were introduced in June by Scotland’s lord advocate, in anticipation of the ruling.

Christopher Kinch QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: ‘Police station advice is an absolute cornerstone of the way the system works. If you get things wrong at that stage it’ll lead to more problems later.

‘This judgment underlines to the MoJ how important police station advice is, and should make it think very carefully about the safeguards it would need to put in place if it were thinking about making savings there.’

Law Society president Linda Lee said: ‘The provision of legal advice in the police station is vital, and we are extremely pleased that the right is now firmly entrenched in caselaw.

‘Protecting the civil rights of suspects is fundamental to a just society, and it is in the interests of the police that suspects should be represented.’