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Solicitors are refusing to attend police stations due to 'custody chaos'


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Law Society co-chairman hits out at arrangements and says police interviews should be done remotely via conference calls.


Date - 25th March 2020
By - Gary Mason

Solicitors are refusing to attend police stations because of the lack of a joined up approach between forces, courts and prisons to take precautions against the virus according to the Law Society.

Ian Kelcey, co-chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee, is calling on the Home Office to introduce a national protocol for custody suites.

Mr Kelcey, a senior partner at Bristol-based criminal law firm Kelcey and Hall, said: "Currently, with police stations, we take the view the police are taking a very lax attitude to all of this.

"We had a client arrested, coughing, the police said he's got some symptoms, and didn't even refer him to a health care professional.

"We said, 'OK, we're refusing to attend', and the end result was the client was released, no further action.

"In Kent, a colleague was on call over the weekend, someone was arrested, who thought he had Covid-19.

"The police said: 'No they haven't, but tell you what, when you turn up we have masks and gloves for you', then when he arrived the police were wearing full hazmat suits. It is just shocking, the way police are behaving."

West Midlands Police has designated one of its four custody suites, Wolverhampton, to hold detainees suspected or confirmed to have Covid-19.

Mr Kelcey said police interviews could be done safely and remotely using conference call phones.

"We can do interviews remotely, get disclosure, speak to the client and be present in interview by dialling in over the phone," he said.

"It's not rocket science - every force has a conference call phone.

"The trouble with the police attitude is, 'We've arrested someone, we've got a problem, and don't want to keep them here'.

He added that clarity was also needed in England and Wales's magistrates' courts, calling current arrangements a "muddle".

He described National Police Chiefs' Council guidance as "as much use as a chocolate fireguard", adding different forces were using different protocols.

At least one force is reportedly asking solicitors to bring their own hand gel, gloves and masks, while at Staffordshire Police's Cannock custody block, lawyers have been met at the doors by staff with hand sanitiser.

He said the profession should stand together and not attend police stations, adding that his firm and others in Bristol are refusing to go.

"I think overall, what we should all be doing is saying we're not going, full stop.

"The police attitude is if you're not coming up, we'll get another firm, but we're all standing firm here (in Bristol).

"I think now we need a national protocol from the Home Office."

He described magistrates' courts as "a complete muddle", reporting that some in Wales were only dealing with the most serious cases and detainees remanded from police custody.

He added: "There needs to be a national policy in place. I mean magistrates' courts are zoos, you've got people turning up in the waiting area, all congregating in the area.

"At Bristol Magistrates' Court, a PFI (public finance initiative) building, the toilets have automated hand-washing facilities, so you can't wash for 20 seconds - you get five seconds of water, then soap, then the drier comes on.

"I went to Swindon Magistrates', there was no hand gel, no soap, no toilet roll.

"The Ministry of Justice is doing its best. If I'm honest, this has taken everyone by surprise, the speed of this thing.

"We would like to see cases there done remotely, but somebody has got to be there for the overnight detainees remanded into custody.

"If there's only four or five, you can implement some degree of social distancing - but still we need a national policy."

In a statement on Monday, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett announced no new jury trials should take place at crown courts and any ongoing should be paused for stringent safety measures to be put in place.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents criminal barristers in England and Wales, said it would support members who choose not to attend court.

On Tuesday, Nottingham and Maidstone crown courts shut their doors.

A senior lawyer who turned up at Maidstone but declined to be named said: "None of the judges turned up due to concerns about their own safety despite cases being listed for today.

"Court now closed until further notice - you couldn't script it."

Simon Davis, Law Society president, said: "The courts have now directed that all matters that can be dealt with remotely must be.

"There will only be extremely limited exceptions, where a matter is urgent and justice cannot be done without a face-to-face hearing.

"In these limited circumstances, and so long as the court is taking all necessary measures to ensure good hygiene, appropriate distancing and following all other relevant guidance to minimise risk, it should be safe for our members to attend court.

"If appropriate hygiene and safety measures are not in place, it would be reasonable to decline to attend."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are working incredibly closely with the National Police Chiefs' Council who have sent guidance to all police forces on how to safely manage their custody suites.

"This is an evolving situation and we keep guidance under constant review."

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Makes a change. Normally the lawyers are always shrieking about how brave they are.

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Why not just tell their client to say no comment during a phone call before interview. 

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38 minutes ago, Jimbo26 said:

Why not just tell their client to say no comment during a phone call before interview. 

Too many legal loopholes, and get outs created in PACE.

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