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(Updated 3rd April)

From 2nd April there is a National Protocol for police station attendances. You can read it in full here:

The impact of the corona virus is being felt across the globe. In the UK the Prime Minister has on medical advice asked us all to work from home. However court hearings and police station interviews will continue. The Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC has said, 'Our Crown and magistrates courts provide a vital public service and until instructed otherwise, we expect all lawyers, magistrates, jurors, witnesses, defendants and court staff to continue to attend court as required, so the interests of justice can be served.'

Solicitors and police station reps have been designated as key workers. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that all legal professionals involved in advising people deprived of their liberty are key workers.

It is thought that 61% of all solicitors have children, and 72% have children of school age. As key workers the children of police station reps will be able to attend school. Therefore criminal lawyers are going to be taking some risks ensuring that defendants are properly represented.

No one should feel that they have to work. If you do not want to work then don't. But if you are prepared to work then do please be sensible. In the next few weeks and months it is going to be essential for the police and courts to be able to function.

Clearly all police station reps need to use common sense during this virus crisis. For those reps who are working independently this will be a difficult time financially. But your own health and the health of others has to be the first priority.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPPC) has issued guidance to forces on COVID-19 precautions in custody suites. Section 4 concerns external visitors, including legal advisors. It states: “Enabling detainees to exercise their right to legal advice is essential. Custody staff should work in conjunction with legal representatives to ensure this process is effectively managed. Consideration should be given to telephone advice in appropriate circumstances.”

Quite simply be sensible but if you have symptoms or you have underlying health issues then you should not be working. If you are not comfortable with the risks then do not attend the interview.

  1. If you are in an at risk group you should not attend police station interview.
  2. If you have an underlying health issue, particularly if you are over 60 then do not attend any interviews.
  3. If you have any symptoms you should not be working.
  4. or have been in contact with anyone who has the virus

Clearly when attending a police station we all need to be sensible. We all need to wash our hands and avoid touching our faces particularly after signing forms or touching surfaces.

The 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and the related Codes of Practice contain general provisions to ensure the health and safety of those in police custody.

The key points to note are :

  • Importantly the guidance states that police station reps should disclose information about health risks to the police. Regardless of privilege if you become aware of information that indicates a detainee may be a risk that information should be disclosed at the earliest opportunity.

There will be situations where the solicitor considers a level of risk exists but the legal relationship with the detainee might prevent those details being shared with the police. This should not prevent you informing the police of the general nature of the risk without disclosing specific information. A solicitor should always inform the police if there are particular concerns which may require alternative or specific arrangements for the custody and care of the detainee.

  • On arrival, the custody officer shall determine whether the detainee is, or might be, in need of medical treatment or attention (Code C, 3.5©).
  • When the needs mentioned above are being determined, the custody officer is responsible for initiating an assessment to consider whether the detainee is likely to present specific risks to custody staff, any individual who may have contact with detainee (e.g. legal advisers, medical staff) or themselves (Code C, 3.6).
  • The content of any risk assessment and any analysis of the level of risk relating to the person’s detention is not required to be shown or provided to the detainee or any person acting on behalf of the detainee. But information should not be withheld from any person acting on the detainee’s behalf, for example, an appropriate adult, solicitor or interpreter, if to do so might put that person at risk (Code C, 3.8A).
  • The custody officer is responsible for implementing the response to any specific risk assessment, e.g. calling an appropriate healthcare professional; or reducing the risk to those who come into contact with the detainee (Code C, 3.9).
  • As soon as practicable after arrival at the police station, each detainee must be given an opportunity to speak in private with a member of the custody staff who if they wish may be of the same sex as the detainee (see paragraph 1.13©), about any matter concerning the detainee’s personal needs relating to their health, hygiene and welfare that might affect or concern them whilst in custody. If the detainee wishes to take this opportunity, the necessary arrangements shall be made as soon as practicable (Code C, 9.3A).
  • If it appears to the custody officer, or they are told, that a person brought to a station under arrest may be suffering from an infectious disease or condition, the custody officer must take reasonable steps to safeguard the health of the detainee and others at the station. In deciding what action to take, advice must be sought from an appropriate healthcare professional. See Note 9E. The custody officer has discretion to isolate the person and their property until clinical directions have been obtained (Code C, 9.7).
  • The rights, entitlements and safeguards that apply to the conduct and recording of interviews with suspects are not diminished simply because the interview is arranged on a voluntary basis (Code C, 3.21(b)).
  • Home office guidance for their criminal and financial investigation teams sets out that prior to a suspect being dealt with by a voluntary interview, officers dealing must complete the Initial section of the Voluntary Attender initial risk assessment form, in the presence of the interviewee. The initial questions asked of the suspect [include]: do you have any known physical or mental health issues? If the answer is yes… guidance must be sought from a supervisor [of a rank equivalent to an Inspector] before proceeding with the interview (Home Office, Interviewing Suspects (Version 7.0 (10 February 2020))).
  • Code C Note for Guidance 3E makes direct reference to the Home Office Circular 34/2007 (safety of solicitors and probationary representatives at police stations); the Circular sets out:
  • The police should ensure so far as reasonably practicable:
  1. The health and safety of those employed in custody suites;
  2. That the operation of the custody suite does not expose non-employees, such as detainees, solicitors, appropriate adults and others who may be present, to risk; and
  3. Should carry out an assessment of the risks to employees and others who come into the custody suite.
  4. Should provide solicitors with any relevant information that could usefully inform the solicitors’ own risk assessments.
  • The solicitor firm has a duty to assess the risks to their staff associated with working in custody suites.
  • An individual solicitor:
  1. Has a duty to review their own safety before each consultation with a detainee.
  2. Should seek relevant information from police in order to assess the risks to their own safety before any consultations with suspects.
  3. Should not expose themselves to unnecessary risk simply for the sake of expediency.
  4. Should co-operate with police to ensure that their actions do not compromise the overall safety of those in the custody suite.
  5. Should explain how any risk assessments they have carried out might affect their client suspect.

We are all well used to dealing with both vulnerable and volatile clients. A little common sense will allow us all to defend our clients in a safe and healthy manner.

covid19_advice.txt · Last modified: 2020/04/03 12:55 by frescom