An Open Letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick
We write on behalf of London’s criminal defence solicitors and police station representatives. Twenty four hours a day, our members attend police stations across the capital to represent suspects in interviews under caution, and to uphold their rights whilst in police custody.
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, the Government has taken increasingly drastic measures to curb its spread. This approach has extended to our courts, where to reduce risk all trials were today postponed until further notice and face-to-face appearances are to be kept to an absolute minimum. However, we have yet to see this reflected in practice and procedure at our police stations. Members are reporting unsanitary conditions, a lack of proper communication regarding risk assessments and a failure to prioritise urgent cases. Meanwhile it appears no efforts at all have been made towards adopting technology which would allow legal representatives and appropriate adults to attend interviews remotely (as translators often do).
This cannot continue. For the sake of suspects, police staff, our members, the NHS workers who plead for us to stay home, and the wider public whom we risk infecting, the Metropolitan Police Service please must urgently adopt the following measures:
(1) Prioritise arrest cases
Arrests to be reserved for essential cases, with an increased use of street bail. Voluntary interviews and postal requisitions to be delayed for two months where possible.
(2) Avoid physical attendance
In the rare cases where detention and interview of suspects is immediately necessary, solicitors and appropriate adults to be permitted to attend via video-link. Remote representation is never ideal, but poses a particular issue for mentally vulnerable detainees and those with learning difficulties and communication disorders. These defendants should be bailed for future interviews in all but the most serious cases.
(3) Make facilities safe
On the rare occasions that physical attendance at police stations is required, a Covid-19 risk assessment of defendants is to be carried out. Guidance must now be issued publicly on the content and procedure of these risk assessments, and the full results for an individual case made available to the parties in advance of their attendance. Regular deep cleans of all facilities and hand sanitiser to be made widely available.
If these measures are not urgently adopted, we will have no choice but to advise our members not to attend police stations to represent defendants.
It is our collective responsibility to uphold law and order in a way which prioritises public health in these extraordinary circumstances,
London Criminal Court Solicitors Association