Lawyers endure 'shifts from hell'

JAMES Nichol remembers the first night after the change in the right to silence law with great trepidation.

“It was horrendous. I conducted eight interviews in three or four police stations involving clients accused of very serious offences including GBH, arson, threats to kill and £1 million fraud,” says Nichol, of well-known London crime firm Taylor Nichol.

The “shift from hell” occurred in Highbury, which has one of the busiest duty solicitor schemes in the country, and may have partly been caused by police officers delaying arrests until the change of law came into affect on 10 April.

All the signs are, however, that the workload for advisers has increased significantly since the change, creating a mini-boom in advice work and an increase in the legal aid bill at the time the Lord Chancellor is complaining about its cost.

In The Lawyer survey, 55 per cent of the 183 solicitors questioned who were members of duty solicitors schemes said their workload had increased.

And of the 101 lawyers facing more work, 15 per cent said the duty solicitor scheme as it stood was unable to cope.

The findings back up Legal Aid Board figures which showed a 21 per cent increase in requests for police station duty solicitor advice in the first two months after the change.

The Law Society said in July that “the new provisions would leave most suspects uncertain of their legal position and very much in need of legal help”.

Solicitors claim they are not only getting more call-outs, but interviews are taking longer now the “if in doubt advise

silence” option has gone.

Mark Studdert, of Hodge Jones & Allen and administrator of the Highbury scheme, says: “If you are going to do your job you have to conduct a kind of mini-trial going over as much of the prosecution evidence as you can even if you eventually advise the client to stay silent.”

London criminal firm Victor Lissack & Roscoe said police station advice work has increased by around 25 per cent.