Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scottish Police Federation head warns Police Stations can't accommodate lawyers

Those of you from south of the border may not have heard of a landmark UK Supreme Court judgement given yesterday which stated that in future Police will no longer have the right to question suspects in Scotland without a lawyer present. In 2008, a judgement in the European Court of Human Rights stated that it violated human rights to have interrogation without legal counsel. I'm not a lawyer, but I am not sure I understand why the SNP Government didn't see the significance of this at that time and take time to consult and legislate.

Instead the Scottish Parliament has had just one afternoon, today,  to debate a significant change to Scots Law by way of a rather unflattering jerking of the knee. The SNP are taking the opportunity to quadruple the time someone can be held without charge in Scotland from 6 to a maximum of 24 hours. While that might seem generous in comparison to the English maximum of 4 days (except in terrorism cases when it's 28 days), it's still a significant shift for us up here.

Today's emergency legislation isn't the end of the process - SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has set up a review body to look at all he issues surrounding this and report back next year. No further legislation is expected before the Holyrood elections next year.

The path to the judgement started when Peter Cadder, aged 16, was interviewed without a lawyer and later convicted of assault and breach of the peace on the basis of a confession he made during that time. He appealed his conviction on the basis that the manner of his interrogation breached his human rights.

Political reaction has been predictable. Stephen reported the other day how the Tories were affronted because of the human rights angle, and they're not over keen on human rights, especially those associated with Europe. MacAskill is annoyed that the UK Supreme Court, which he seems to think is nothing to do with Scotland, is bossing him around, failing to recognise that if this had gone directly to the European Court of Human Rights, the chances are it would have delivered the same result, only more expensively.

Thankfully the Liberal Democrats' Robert Brown is on the case, expressing our reservations about the necessity for the legislation and particularly the extension of the detention time. He said:

“The Cadder judgement poses substantial challenges for the Scottish criminal justice system.
Liberal Democrats have substantial reservations about the emergency legislation proposed by the Scottish Government. There will be no detailed consideration of these important changes by the Justice committee and negligible chance for public input.
“We have reluctantly agreed to the process but we will be pursuing amendments to tighten up the procedures.
“Whilst the law needs to be changed to accommodate the judgement, I have concerns about the proposal to extend the period of detention from 6 hours to 24 hours effectively at the discretion of the police.”
Unfortunately, and equally predictably, as I write, the first few amendments introduced by the Scottish Liberal Democrats have been defeated. And I can't believe that MacAskill has just called out Mike Rumbles for daring to suggest that anyone being detained in a Police Station was a suspect and not a criminal.

The most bizarre reaction to the Cadder Judgement I've seen came from Calum Steele, the General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation. He thinks that there isn't enough room in Police stations for all these  lawyers who'll be hanging around. Surely to goodness it can't be too difficult to move an extra chair into the interview room? For heavens sake, I don't think we need to build an annexe on to every Police Station.
 It's immediately apparent that this will have significant resource implications for the Police Service. At this moment in time, most Police stations in Scotland aren't designed or have the facilities to enable significant solicitor access to their clients. That will demand significant capital resource and we know already that the capital budget for Scotland is reducing in the next financial year.
You can watch the interview here at around 4:45 in.

I actually struggle with the notion that people can be interrogated by the Police without a lawyer present. I've clearly watched too many American crime dramas, or episodes of The Bill but it's only recently that I've become aware that you don't have a right to a lawyer in Scotland. If I were ever questioned for anything, I'm sure I'd be so freaked out that even though I'd be innocent, I'd end up getting confused, or upset and not giving the best account of myself. Any knowledge of my legal rights would also no doubt fly out of my head. I'm sure that most people don't even know what their rights are if they're arrested. Therefore I feel I'd need someone there to give me professional advice and to ensure that all the proper processes were being adhered to. Surely that's the least you can expect from any judicial system.

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