When I started the Tuesday Truth I hoped it would become a weekly blog for Solicitors to provide experiences of working at the coalface of Criminal Justice. I did not want it to be a weekly attack on the government or the bar or both. I have tried, but have succumbed to the former this week, but not the latter.
Solicitors are entitled to be heard more, their contribution to the criminal justice system is invaluable. Going to the police station at all hours often for many hours to protect the rights of the individual is of immeasurable value in terms of how a case or investigation is dealt with.
When I was an Articled Clerk I was accused by a police officer of intimidating a client into making no comment when he really wanted to co-operate. I was accused of perverting the course of justice.
The police conducted a formal investigation, I was interviewed under caution, my firm instructed Counsel. I became the client, 9 months into my training contract having spent the first 8 months in Conveyancing and Probate (living the dream) No further action was taken, my employers then and now made a complaint and I received a formal apology confirming there was never any evidence against me.
What shocked me about the whole process which was very unpleasant is that one officer made a statement where he said I had leaned towards the suspect in an intimidating way in the interview. Anyone who knows me will know that my two 4 year old daughters can take me, and when I play 5 a side football I get frightened if there is a fight in another match on another pitch.
This though was a formative experience in my development as an Articled clerk and indeed as a person who recognised that if the police could turn on the legal representative in this manner then what hope did the suspect have.
Many expert criminal defence barristers will say the most important part of the client’s defence is what he or she said at the police station. This is why really it is a disgrace that a solicitor with over 25 years experience gets paid the same for acting for a client as a paralegal who is accredited. If you are accused of murder who would you rather have?
25 years ago there were no adverse inferences at police station interviews, it was no comment all the way if you had any doubts, now there are several inferences that can be triggered, bad character interviews and the rest and still of course police officers who tell clients that it is the solicitor who holds everything up and it will be much quicker to go ahead without.
Of course we go to police stations to represent our clients because we enjoy the work, we enjoy the buzz of protecting the suspect and dealing with the police, this is one part of a great job or what was a great job.
The fees paid for police stations show that the state is getting incredibly good value for money for having what is effectively police station cover available all over the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
When I read on social media the many accounts of devoted criminal solicitors heading off to police stations at all hours I recognise the incredible contribution that they make which is totally unappreciated.
I wince when I see solicitors in police stations being portrayed on TV, they almost seem to be mute, dishevelled, somewhat odd and the evil link in the relationship between the client and the officer. They seem to come over as so unattractive yet by the time the case gets to court the barrister is portrayed as dynamic and sexy.
Today there are many barristers on the duty solicitor rotas. I have no idea how often they attend police stations, or what experience they have, but those who do go regularly will know just what a challenge this type of work is and why it is important that properly able and experienced solicitors or police station representatives are properly remunerated for acting in the most serious cases, after all you would not have a pupil barrister leading in a murder.
The right to free advice and representation at the police station followed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 introduced by the Conservative government, the same party who are currently tearing up legal aid and access to justice.
Recently we acted for a youth arrested for murder. He had never been arrested before and was interviewed and bailed on a number of occasions. The solicitor concerned dealt with him and his understandably anxious family. The experienced solicitor spent in total 7 hours in providing advice and assistance and a total of 12 hours in travel and waiting. There were also numerous phone calls. The fee was just under £220. Ignoring all the phone calls that works out at about £11 an hour for an expert advising on the most serious type of allegation. Does this seem right to anybody?
Many people are never arrested, and so maybe this scenario does not trouble them, but innocent people do get arrested, in the wrong place at the wrong time, falsely accused etc, a fair justice system requires quality lawyers being available to advise at rates that enable them to at least make a living.