Act forces greater role on solicitors

SOLICITORS who visit clients in police stations will have to make more trips, stay for longer, and take a “more pro-active role” when sections of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act come into force early this year.

And costs to the Legal Aid Board will increase “enormously” as a result, according to Mark Haslam, partner at Magrath & Co and secretary to the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association.

Speaking at a two-day seminar given by James Mulcahy QC's set at 2 Gray's Inn, Haslam said: “The goal posts have moved significantly now in the police station.

“What happens there has always been important but now it will be crucial. People have to be properly represented there because it could decide the future of the case.”

With the changes being introduced against a background of Law Society and Legal Aid Board concern at quality of representation, and the use by firms of out of work actors and students, Haslam warned against the “blanket policy of 'no comment'”.

“Solicitors will have to take a more pro-active role by making proper enquiries of the police and their clients at the police station, make proper notes about what has happened and – crucially – what is currently happening there, and be prepared to take an active role in interviews.”

This means identifying themselves and their role on the interview tape, and explaining their advice and the reasons behind it, to safeguard clients. If and when the court is asked to draw an inference from a 'no comment' interview, the lawyer needs to show grounds for keeping silent, he says.

Particular concerns for lawyers focus on inferences drawn at the time of arrest as well as interview. But one grey area will be the client's response at the time of charging – until now seen as a formality. Clients will now have to be at court more often and stay there during charging. “This will add enormously to the legal aid bill. The Government overlooked the cost of this legislation,” said Haslam.