Fears as lawyers locked in custody suites put at risk

PUBLISHED March 2, 2006

Criminal defence solicitors are looking to meet with leading players in the criminal justice system over concerns about the safety of duty solicitors who are locked into cells with potentially dangerous clients.

The Law Society and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) have both received complaints from members that duty solicitors nationally are being put into jeopardy, particularly when they conduct interviews in custody suites.

A Law Society spokeswoman said: ?We have serious concerns about the safety of solicitors following reports from criminal duty solicitors that the police and private security firms now running some police custody suites have insisted that solicitors be locked in the interview room with clients. Chancery Lane has raised its concerns at a recent meeting with members of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).?

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) has also discussed the problem with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which said it was keen to broker a meeting between those involved in the process, including ACPO and the Home Office.

A HSE spokesman said it was aware that a balance must be struck between health and safety and client confidentiality. ?We would welcome ideas from solicitors on how to address safety concerns while still enabling them to do their jobs,? he said. ?We all need to come up with some solutions.?

CLSA director Rodney Warren welcomed the prospect of a meeting. ?There needs to be greater consideration for the safety of those involved in working in custody suites, whether they are defence or prosecution or those involved in any other part of the process,? he said. Mr Warren said current conditions should be addressed now, but in future greater consideration should also be given to lawyers? safety when buildings are being designed.