Those good wishes include good health and so it is only right we send an update given the seemingly continuous stream of negative news about coronavirus in the last few weeks.
Last week we set out our concerns about the growth of the Omicron variant, the apparent lack of protection from 2 doses of the vaccines and we called for a immediate move to remote police station advice under v3 of the Joint Interim Interview Protocol in the interests of safety for all those who attend the police station.
Much has been reported in recent days about how, and why, at present not all our Criminal Justice partners are convinced that it was time to do so, at least until the picture becomes clearer. All parties to the Protocol have agreed to keep the matter under constant review and needless to say any significant changes such as further government restrictions will cause a further review. We continue to call for a return to the earlier v3 of the protocol which provided for remote advice in most cases.
We are now approaching 100,000 new reported infections per day, with the government’s own modelling suggesting that is the tip of the iceberg and there are many more in reported cases by an order of magnitude. We do not think, against that background that the HMS Criminal Defence Lawyer can continue to head full steam at that iceberg.
The latest data shows a worrying lack of ANY vaccines for 1 in 3 in London, low levels of effectiveness of 2 doses, and a window of 7-14 days after booster/3rd vaccine before the extra protection is received. That means for the millions being vaccinated last week and this, immunity will not be boosted before 2022 and they therefore remain largely unprotected. We may not quite be back at square 1, but we have certainly landed on a snake and not a ladder and have fallen back some way.
On Monday, Independent SAGE published guidance in which it said: “Omicron is extremely transmissible. If anyone in a moderately-sized social gathering indoors (e.g., ten people meeting up in a house for Christmas dinner) has Omicron, most people are likely to become infected, regardless of vaccine status. Omicron also has a wider range of symptoms. It is therefore vital to stay at home if you have symptoms typical of a cold; stay away from anyone who has cold symptoms; take a Lateral Flow Test immediately before mixing, and to ensure all indoor spaces where people are mixing are as well ventilated as possible.”
It is not difficult to translate from 10 people in a house for turkey and mince pies to 3 or more people in a small, unventilated room in a police station: if one person goes into that interview with Omicron, everyone who comes out of it will have likely been infected. That is stark and worrying advice.
Even if the vast majority end up with mild illness, which is still far from certain, a small percentage of a very large number is still a unacceptably high number. A small percentage of hospitalisation or deaths if millions are infected is an unacceptably high death rate and will break the NHS and indeed industries across the piste.
In some parts of the country 75% of new cases are the new Omicron variant. 14 people have now died from Omicron, and 129 are in hospital as at 19 December 2021, with hospitalisations up 12 fold in a week. Those numbers, unfortunately, will continue to grow if the experts and their modelling is correct.
Our member’s health, and that of those they come into contact with, both fellow professionals and their loved ones is now being put at risk by the lack of a universal protocol allowing for remote attendances.
We are hearing growing reports of different areas and different local arrangements, with many now moving to remote working, or requiring new levels of PPE including aprons to be worn whilst others continue to head toward the iceberg, knowing as we do there are simply not enough lifeboats on board.
We cannot be sure that in person attendance is safe, indeed the best evidence now available suggests it may well be the opposite, certainly in terms of acquiring Omicron.
What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones ?
We told our members to be healthy this Christmas and this means being safe. Please follow the government guidance. Keep an eye out for announcements from us and others within the CJS for any updates on the protocol. In the meantime :
1. Work from home and/or remotely where you can.
2. Make your own assessments : are your local police stations a covid-safe environment in your experience ? Have you seen updated risk assessments to take into account the increased virulence of Omicron ? Is the police station well-ventilated ? Is proper FFP2 or preferably FFP3 PPE being worn ?
3. Use the exceptions where appropriate under the protocol to protect yourselves and your clients – the fewer people in the interview room, the better.
4. Is there is a need for an interview at all ? Will your client choose to decline an interview and/or remain in their cell to avoid a crowded interview room ? In any event, would any admissions made by a defendant who wishes to depart the crowded interview room rapidly whilst feeling under the threat of acquiring a potentially serious infection be admissible ?
5. Many of the local arrangements being reached are sensible and will help reduce the risk of infection. Make sure you are aware of any such arrangements, and please report them to us at email@example.com
6. Keep a careful note on the file of any reasons for a remote attendance
7. If you have taken the view, quite reasonably, that you cannot safely attend in person, then where possible seek alternative cover. If the exceptions do not apply, please be reasonable and sympathetic to those who also share concerns and do not want to attend in person. You may need to notify the DSCC and return a case.
8. If you are on the rota to cover a Duty Solcitor Slot and cannot cover having regard to the situation, seek to swap or make arrangements. If you cannot make alternative arrangements and and it is not safe for you to carry out the duty then inform the DSCC that you cannot cover it and they will need to go to back up. Keep the DSCC and your Contract Manager informed, especially if there is no available local cover. Please report any issues to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Above all, stay safe.