Criminal justice

Safety and access to justice must be balanced

A new version of the police station protocol will apply from Monday (4 October).*

The protocol, which was introduced in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed for remote legal advice to be provided to suspects with their consent.

The Law Society of England and Wales worked with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and other practitioner associations, on the guidance.

From 17 May 2021, the protocol no longer applied in cases involving suspects who are children or vulnerable adults requiring an appropriate adult.

The new version, which was published yesterday (30 September), envisages a return to in-person attendances at police stations in most cases.

Remote provision of legal advice is still allowed in certain limited circumstances including where the suspect is or is believed to be COVID-19 positive, where the suspect’s named solicitor is self-isolating and where there are health and safety concerns in relation to the police custody suites.

“As a result of the pandemic, attendance at a police station became dangerous and allowing remote legal advice to be given was a sensible solution to help ensure the safety all those involved in the process,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“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.

“Members should contact us if they have any specific concerns regarding exceptions allowed under the protocol being denied or where they believe health and safety measures are inadequate at individual police stations.**

“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,” added I. Stephanie Boyce.

“We call on the government to reflect the importance of this work with proper rates of pay.”

Notes to editors

*See the protocol in full

**Contact our Practice Advice Service

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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