The scandal the police are trying to hide
Anyone interviewed by the police, whether under arrest or not, has the right to free legal advice.
Some time ago I had cause to contact my local police force regarding the interviewing of a suspect, as the suspect was severely disabled with heart disease and suffered from claustrophobia and agoraphobia. I asked if, in view of their health difficulties and medical reports stating that their health would be seriously damaged by any additional stress the interview could be carried out in their home instead of a police station.
I was taken aback to be told that yes they could, but, that free legal advice would not be given and if they wanted a solicitor present they would have to pay for one themselves.
I knew this to be wrong and a quick check on the “Direct Gov” website confirmed this as it says – “You have the right to free legal advice (legal aid) if the police question you about a crime regardless of your financial circumstances - for example, your income or savings, even if you haven’t been arrested, if you are questioned inside or outside a police station - for example in the street or at home.”
I checked with several police forces and discovered that they all said the same thing, no free legal aid if interviewed at home.
I therefore contacted the Legal Services Commission and received an email back which said – “The Legal Services Commission’s position is that we will fund advice and assistance for a client who is being interviewed by the police even if that interview does not take place in a police station. The LSC’s 2010 Standard Crime Contract which governs the work that legal aid firms can carry out defines police station as: “Police Station” means a Police Station or any other place where a Constable is present The contract is also clear that advice and assistance is available both to people who have been arrested and also to “volunteers”.
Therefore the stance taken by the police was totally illegal.
The Legal Services Commission agreed to refer this to the Home Office.
Shortly afterwards an article appeared in The Law Society Gazette in which Criminal Law Solicitors Association committee member Robin Murray said he had been shocked when a serving officer told him the police had ‘got wise’ to the fact that they do not need a solicitor present if they interview suspects at home. He said: ‘It is a naked and cynical attempt to circumvent suspects’ rights, eroding at a stroke the protections provided by PACE.’
Further representations were made, and finally the Home Office agreed to amend PACE Code C to correct this.
This is not a change in the law, it is simply the police being required to comply with what has been law all along. After all as the Government’s own “Direct Gov” website has stated for many years - “You have the right to free legal advice (legal aid) if the police question you about a crime regardless of your financial circumstances - for example, your income or savings, even if you haven’t been arrested, if you are questioned inside or outside a police station - for example in the street or at home.”
How, when the Government’s own website said this, have police forces been allowed for TEN YEARS to illegally deny the most vulnerable members of society their rights ? Not only deny them their rights, but by saying they must pay for legal advice, actually LIE to them.
The PACE Code of Practic C is now being altered (when the Home Office actually get around to doing it), BUT this in my view, still leaves serious concerns.
- The fact that it is merely amending a code of practice clearly constitutes an admission that the practice of police denying people free legal advice was illegal. This amendment is not a change in the law as the law was already in place and merely not adhered to by the police.
- What is going to be done about the tens of thousands of cases, mainly involving the sick, disabled, and elderly, in which they were illegally denied free legal advice?
- Where they paid for legal advice themselves they should be refunded their costs
- Where they were interviewed without legal representation, and subsequently convicted, their convictions should be overturned as unsafe.
- Where police officers did not simply fail to inform suspects of their rights, but, actually deliberately misinformed them to deny them their rights, the officers (police forces) concerned should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.
This is a scandal which should not be hidden away, but, which should be aired publicly. If police officers are allowed to ignore and break the law, then justice in Britain is dead.