News In Focus
Talks continue on police interview guidelines
Discussions between the Law Society of Scotland and Crown Office continue on the Lord Advocate's interim guidelines on the availability of a solicitor during police station interviews of detained suspects, as the guidelines come into force for summary as well as solemn cases.
A statement issued by Crown Office late yesterday said: "Representatives from the Crown Office and the Law Society of Scotland have met to discuss the Lord Advocate's interim guidance to police, issued last month ahead of the Supreme Court's decision in the Cadder case.
"The guidance initially applied to solemn cases and, as planned, rolls out to summary cases from today (8 July). The interim guidance has been revised to take account of police experience in the early days of operating the guidelines and feedback from the Law Society of Scotland. In particular the revised guidance allows for initial telephone contact between suspect and solicitors."
In a letter sent yesterday to criminal practitioners, the Society explained that the effect of the change is that rather than the suspect simply being asked whether telephone advice would be acceptable, the police will try and set up a call by the suspect to their solicitor so that an informed decision can then be made whether to call the solicitor out. It adds that "it may also offer the solicitor of choice the opportunity to agree alternative arrangements for attendance with the suspect, should that solicitor be unable to attend in person".
The statement concluded: "Discussions have been positive and constructive and further discussions are planned. The Crown will continue to liaise with ACPOS, the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal Aid Board and colleagues in Scottish Government to minimise risk to prosecutions and to ensure contingencies are in place for all possible outcomes of the Supreme Court ruling."
The Society's letter confirms that negotiations on out-of-hours payments are still at an early stage. "Remuneration levels have not been discussed and reports to the contrary in today’s media have since been corrected. The starting point for any negotiations, whether for attendance during or out of hours, has to be that a fee level set almost two decades ago is not appropriate for the new circumstances that the criminal profession now faces."
It continues: "There are a number of questions about payment for police station attendance, including what distinction should be made between attendances during or outside office hours, whether payment should be determined on a time-and-line basis or as a fixed fee, when new regulations can be laid and whether they can be backdated."
The Society is also urging that verification of eligibility is removed as a requirement of advice and assistance in police station attendances, as is the case in England & Wales. To require otherwise, it says, would be "impractical and counter-productive".
The Society’s criminal legal aid negotiating team has also held a meeting, the second of its kind since the Crown guidelines were issued, to brief representatives of local faculties of solicitors from around the country on the latest developments.
Representatives from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Paisley, West Lothian, Airdrie, Falkirk, Clackmannanshire, Ayr, Roxburghshire, and the Society of Solicitors in the Supreme Courts of Scotland took part in the meeting in Edinburgh on Wednesday. Follow-up contact was made with representatives from Dumbarton and Arbroath & Forfar.
Andrew Alexander, the Society’s Legal Aid Co-ordinator, said: “The faculty representatives were updated on a number of issues, such as the proposed new payment scheme, including out of hours payments, and telephone advice. It was a positive and constructive meeting, which also looked at the next steps we should take towards finding a sustainable solution to a number of ongoing problems.”
The Society is inviting views from members so it can take these into negotiations with Scottish Government, Crown Office and others. Solicitors with views or questions on the issue of attendance at police station interviews, they should contact firstname.lastname@example.org .