Fundamental legal rights could be put at risk if the government proceeds with the counter-terrorism and border security bill in its current form, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned.
The Law Society shared a number of concerns with British lawmakers. There is no right to consult a solicitor if a person is examined and questioned for under an hour. Access to a solicitor is only given on request, as set out in paragraph 23.1 ‘[…] a detainee who is detained in England, Wales or Northern Ireland is entitled, if the detainee so requests, to consult a solicitor as soon as is reasonably practicable, privately and at any time.’ The Bill compromises the right to a solicitor of a detained person by requiring an officer to be present during the consultation with the solicitor. Paragraph 26.1 states ‘A direction under this paragraph may provide that a detainee who wishes to exercise the right under paragraph 23 may consult a solicitor only in the sight and hearing of a qualified officer.’ Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said, ‘everyone under suspicion of a crime should be able to access confidential legal advice, particularly when facing serious charges.’ She added, ‘the idea people could be questioned for an hour before being able to get legal advice runs against all the usual standards of justice.’
Ms Blacklaws said the right to communicate confidentially with a lawyer would also be undermined by the bill, adding ‘the confidential nature of communication between a lawyer and their client has long been affirmed as a fundamental human right’ and ‘in our view, it is unacceptable that this principle should be undermined in such a serious case where legal advice is more important than ever.’ She also echoed independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Max Hill QC’s calls for the government to urgently appoint his replacement. She argued, ‘the independent advisor plays an important role in ensuring accountability. That this role might be left empty at a time when this significant piece of legislation is being rushed through is deeply concerning.’