Fundamental legal rights could be put at risk if the government proceeds with the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill in its current form, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today.
"Everyone under suspicion of a crime should be able to access confidential legal advice, particularly when facing serious charges," said Law Society president Christina Blacklaws.
"The idea people could be questioned for an hour before being able to get legal advice runs against all the usual standards of justice.
"Even after an hour, a suspect would have to proactively request a solicitor, rather than being offered legal support.
"The government needs to ensure everyone suspected of a crime is entitled to a solicitor and properly informed of their legal rights."
Christina Blacklaws said the right to communicate confidentially with a lawyer would also be undermined by the bill.
"Even when a solicitor is present, the bill currently only allows the suspect to consult them when an officer is listening in," she 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."
Christina Blacklaws also echoed Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Max Hill QC's calls for the government to urgently appoint his replacement.
"We recognise the importance of law enforcement agencies having the power to protect our national security, but this must be balanced with the rights of individuals. There is no point in giving up our rights to protect our rights," she said.
"The independent adviser plays an important role in ensuring accountability. That this role might be left empty at a time when this significant piece of legislation is being rushed through is deeply concerning."
Notes to editors
Some of our concerns as shared with MPs:
- there's no right to consult a solicitor if a person is examined and questioned for under an hour
- access to a solicitor is only given on request, as set out in paragraph 23.1: “[…] a detainee who is detained in England, Wales or Northern Ireland is entitled, if the detainee so requests, to consult a solicitor as soon as is reasonably practicable, privately and at any time.”
- the bill compromises the right to a solicitor of a detained person by requiring an officer to be present during the consultation with the solicitor. Paragraph 26.1 states: “A direction under this paragraph may provide that a detainee who wishes to exercise the right under paragraph 23 may consult a solicitor only in the sight and hearing of a qualified officer”
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