A national protocol agreed between police and legal chiefs to protect the health and safety of criminal defence solicitors during the pandemic has been revised to support the return of in-person attendance at police stations.
The protocol was introduced last year and stated that legal advice for suspects should take place whenever possible over telephone and by video link. From May, it no longer applied in cases involving children or vulnerable adults requiring an appropriate adult.
A new version, which comes into force on Monday, states that advice provided by legal representatives in person will be the default position. Exceptions include the suspect having, or believed to have, Covid, and where there are health and safety concerns in relation to the police custody suites.
Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: 'The protocol was introduced as a temporary emergency measure and we have always made it clear that in-person advice is preferable and should be reverted to as soon as possible. Despite the successful vaccine rollout, Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, and it remains crucial to balance the essential right to have one’s solicitor present in custody, with the need to maintain safety for all.
‘We believe the new protocol is an important step towards returning to face-to-face legal advice but with safeguards in place to allow for remote hearings where necessary.’
Boyce said members should contact the Society if the exceptions allowed under the protocol are denied or where they believe the health and safety measures at individual police stations are inadequate.
‘What happens in the police station, and the careful judgements solicitors are required to make there, affect entire cases - illustrating how critical this often out-of-hours and poorly paid work is,’ Boyce said.
The protocol has been agreed by the Crown Prosecution Service, National Police Chiefs’ Council, Law Society, Criminal Law Solicitors Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association.