UPDATE ON INTERVIEW PROTOCOL
Since the start of the pandemic your committee has been hard at work campaigning for a safe way for our members to continue to offer access to legal advice to those at a police station. Our work, with others including the Law Society and LCCSA, led to the Joint Interim Interview Protocol which has allowed for remote interview advice throughout the pandemic.
We have always believed that the move was a necessary step to allow continued access to legal advice in circumstances where otherwise, many firms would decide they could not safely allow their staff and representatives to attend the police station.
There has however been the wider issue of whether, beyond the pandemic, remote advice is desirable and the wider impact on the suspect, but also against the background of the Criminal Legal Aid Review which might consider for example how legal advice is procured. We believe that to be a much wider discussion which should take place outside of the pressures of the pandemic. There will be diverse, and passionate views on this which must be taken into account.
There have however been those who have pointed out that the Protocol appears to breach PACE and the suspects’ says rights to advice. We do not comment on the same but by way of example see https://www.fairtrials.org/sites/default/files/Advice_on_Remote_Assistance.pdf
Some months ago the Home Office consulted widely on an amendment to PACE to specifically allow for Remote Advice, but as yet no changes have been made.
As a result, of the above, and their views of the current risk given the infection levels, the police via the National Police Chief’s Counsel intend to work towards ending the use of remote advice and a return to ‘business as usual’.
We appreciate this may be disappointing for some, and worrying especially considering our ongoing very high infection rates, with more than 250,000 each week becoming infected. Each fortnight, more people die of covid in the UK that from Road Traffic Accidents for a year. The risk is not over, and even those who are double vaccinated can becoming infected, and can spread the virus to others. We therefore urge members to do everything they can to be safe.
We have on your behalf worked extensively with the NPCC and others and we have made the case as strongly as we can for the need for the protocol to be available – any absolute ban on remote advice would be hugely counterproductive given the ongoing infection rates, and the problems with capacity within the Criminal Justice System.
After many months of arguments and negotiations, the attached protocol has been agreed. Whilst it is not ideal, we have been able to secure a number of key concessions, without which the protocol was likely to have ended entirely. The new version will have effect from the 4th October and will end remote interviews unless one of 4 exceptions apply. The default position will now be that you will be required to attend in person. We will of course be monitoring the situation, and in particular the police compliance with their obligations to ensure a clean and safe working environment and make PPE available, as well as ensure its use. We will be ready to make the case for further changes if there is any evidence that the latest version is creating an unacceptable risk to our member’s health.