Police interview advice: a skill to learn
Too few suspects are receiving proper legal advice in relation to police station interviews, a JUSTICE Scotland report has concluded. The Society is offering training in the necessary skills
Lord Eassie, who chaired the JUSTICE Scotland working party on Legal Assistance
in the Police Station (report here) writes:
As we explain in our recent report, the working party concluded that the importance of legal assistance during police detention needs to be better understood not only by suspects, but, importantly, also by the solicitors tasked with providing that assistance.
Takeup of the right is far lower than it should be. Around 70% of suspects continue to waive the right to receive legal assistance at the police station. Moreover, only one in four of those who do request assistance sees the solicitor in person before and during police interview.
A key recommendation in our report is that personal attendance by solicitors should be standard. Face-to-face consultation and the presence of a solicitor during the police interview to represent the client’s interests are important, if not essential, safeguards. Leaving a client to manage police custody alone is rarely an acceptable response.
Currently, many solicitor practices are not organised to ensure personal attendance. Nor are most solicitors suitably trained for this broader role. Police station legal assistance requires a very different set of skills to court practice. The work can be difficult and demanding. The client may often be unknown to the solicitor, intoxicated, or anxious and distraught. Police stations can be an intimidating environment for a solicitor, especially if young or inexperienced. Deciding when and how to intervene in the course of the interview is a matter that calls for sound professional judgment and may frequently need to be accompanied by personal courage and dedication on the part of the solicitor.
Skills-based training enables discussion about problems and challenges, practice of scenarios in small groups, and an opportunity to reflect on the often difficult choices to be made. It is key to equipping solicitors for this role. As one participant said following a sample training held with the Law Society of Scotland:
“The [training] highlighted the fact that even experienced practitioners had different views about… issues such as the nature of the solicitor’s role, whether it was appropriate to advise a client to answer questions and so on.”
The Society is to be commended on organising this training course to equip solicitors to meet the developing challenges of this area of professional practice.