A recent High Court ruling has concluded that a person detained under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is entitled to consult a solicitor in person at any point. Whilst access to a solicitor at any point in person, in writing or at the telephone is prescribed in the Police Codes of Evidence for persons detained at a Police station, the basic right is legislated differently for those detained under the Terrorism Act.
The ruling came in a case brought by a Muslim man detained by police at Heathrow in 2012 while returning from haj, the holy journey to Mecca. Mr Justice Bean ruled that Police and immigration officers, who questioned a man at Heathrow airport on his return, acted unlawfully when they refused to wait 45 minutes for the arrival of his solicitor.
The Law Society argued that it is unlawful to restrict a person who has been detained at a port or airport under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act to being entitled to have legal advice only via telephone as opposed to in person as well.
Mr Justice Bean in his ruling, said:
“The detainee has the choice. The right may be exercised at any time during the period of detention and may be exercised repeatedly, although not in a manner which frustrates the proper purpose of the examination. If the solicitor attends in person he may be present during the interview…”
Law Society chief executive, Desmond Hudson, welcomed the ruling and said:
“This case focuses on the right to consult a solicitor in a situation where individuals are extremely vulnerable. It raises an important issue not only to the legal profession but also to the public generally.”
He added that the Law Society intervened to establish that there is no doubt that detainees have a right to consult their solicitor in person once detained, and to emphasise the useful role solicitors play in advising detainees.
“The presence of solicitors provides a fundamental safeguard to detainees and this ruling has clarified that in principle there is no sound reason why questioning of a detainee should not be delayed pending the arrival of a solicitor who can advise on what questions they are obliged to answer and explain the legal implications of refusing to do so.”
The Home Office has suggested some reforms to the powers contained within Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which are extremely widely drawn. They allow police to stop and detain individuals for up to nine hours to determine whether they appear to be involved in terrorism. There is no need for the officers to have any grounds to suspect the person stopped is involved in terrorism or any other criminal activity.