In 1984, following several miscarriages of justice pertaining to ‘confessions’ which later didn’t stand up, it was enshrined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that an arrested person had the right to free representation at the police station.
The whole purpose of the Act was not only to protect defendants, but also to protect officers from allegations of foul play.
That right has been (thinks of a polite turn of phrase) ’modified’ over time, to the extent that since 2008, for less serious offences, a detainee may only receive advice over the telephone rather than from a legal representative attending in person, largely unless the offence is one where potentially liberty is at stake (i.e. you could be sent to pokey); although some offences, such as drink driving, can carry a prison sentence, and can fall into the telephone advice category. However, it remained free.
The government now wants to widen the scope of cases where telephone advice should be given, to save on the huge cost </sarcasm> of a representative attending in person, which on average is £150.
Not only that, but government now wants to introduce a means test. Quite aside from the important question of who will conduct a means test at 3am while you are sitting in a cell, consider what that will mean in practice.
Certain benefits will act as a passport, so that is the very needy sorted. High income earners can afford representation, so that is the rich sorted. But what about the huge swathe in the middle? Are they going to be able to find the money, or are they going to go without representation?
I know some people will read this and discount it, because in their heads, criminals are not like them, and innocent people are never arrested, so they don’t have to think about those that end up in police stations, and therefore won’t turn their minds to how they would afford a representative.
To them I say ‘really?’. What about Bob Dowler, questioned as a suspect regarding the disappearance and murder of his daughter, Milly? What about Chris Jefferies, the landlord of the murdered Joanna Yeates, questioned as a suspect? What about Rebecca Leighton, the nurse arrested and questioned as a suspect in the saline contamination cases in Stockport? All released without charge.
They are all in the ‘middle’. They would not pass a means test, and would have been unlikely to afford representation, being in the middle. While I have no way of knowing if it were representation that meant those 3 were not charged, I can say it certainly wouldn’t have hampered their chances.
If you want to keep the right to free representation, which was thought crucial in 1984 for very good reason, please contact your MP and ask him or her to oppose Clause 12 of LASPO. You can contact him or her here.