Law Society calls for equal and unrestricted access to legal advice during detention

The Law Society has reiterated calls for equal access to legal advice for suspects in Garda detention.

  • Likely cause of low rates of legal representation during garda station interviews is non-eligibility for legal aid
  • Law Society highlights free online service available to ‘Find a Garda Station Solicitor’ - system updated to include detention under European Arrest Warrant
  • Criminal Law Annual Update address by Ms Josephine Feehily, Chairperson, Policing Authority

It is an American cinematic cliché that, upon arrest, a person gets to make “one phone call”. But how can you get access to a solicitor in Ireland if suddenly finding yourself detained at a Garda Station? And what rights do you have at time of arrest and detention at that Garda station?

This issue is one area that will be discussed at the Criminal Law Update 2017 at the Law Society of Ireland on Wednesday 27 September 2017.

“Legal rights and representation at time of arrest are not topics that most people in the community would often consider – that is, until they really need to,” said Ken Murphy, Director General, Law Society of Ireland.

“As it currently stands, the Criminal Justice Act 1984 requires Gardaí to inform a person who is detained that they are entitled to consult with a solicitor. But that is as far as the statutory obligation on Gardaí goes.”

“The Criminal Justice Act 2011, which has yet to be fully implemented, states that a detained person shall not only be informed of their right to consult a solicitor, but that person also has the right to consult with a solicitor before questioning starts. The Law Society’s view is that there should be equal and unrestricted access to legal advice during detention.”

Finding a solicitor

The Law Society has been a long-term advocate for reform in the area of detainee rights, and has sought to identify and resolve areas of improvement in the system.

As part of its 2015 submission to the Government’s Review of the Garda Station Legal Advice Revised Scheme, the Law Society outlined a number of key recommendations, including:

  • Ensuring equal and unrestricted access for everyone to vital legal advice during detention by removing the financial threshold at which people become eligible for free legal advice during detention – it is likely the reason people are not availing of solicitors during interviews is because they can’t afford it and yet they are also not eligible for legal aid.
  • Raising awareness of the challenges experienced by solicitors when providing essential Garda Station legal services which help protect due process and fair trial rights.

However, there is one further shortcoming in the system that needs a solution.

“A reality of life for many people is that – while they have the right to consult a solicitor – they may not actually have their own lawyer to call in such circumstances,” said Mr Murphy. 

“If a person under arrest does not request their own solicitor, Gardaí cannot by law direct that person to use a specific solicitor. That may obviously become legally problematic for a number of reasons.”

“To support both the detained person and Gardaí in complying with the law, we created an online tool: ‘Find a Garda Station Solicitor’. This is a public database of solicitors who are available in various localities to attend Garda Stations to provide legal advices and also attend interviews.”

“Accessible through the Law Society website, it provides a searchable and accessible list of registered solicitors in Ireland available to attend Garda Station interviews.”

The database

The ‘Find a Garda Station Solicitor’ database service has been designed to:

  • Help find a solicitor’s contact details when detained in garda custody.
  • Enable Gardaí to search, by division, for a solicitor available to attend their local garda station to provide legal advices and attend interviews.
  • Provide a current and randomised list of available solicitors for their selected division on the day an individual is detained (in circumstances when a detainee does not nominate their own solicitor).

“This has been a popular feature since its initial trial launch, with over 5,300 visits to the webpage. We have recently updated the database to cover those who have been detained under a European Arrest Warrant,” said Mr Murphy.

“The experience of arrest and detention at a Garda Station is unsettling for most people, and solicitors often find that they are playing an emotional support role, as much as a legal representation role.”

“No two garda station experiences are ever the same, and are rarely a pleasant experience. But that is what a solicitor’s role is all about - our role is as varied as life itself and upholding legal rights and representing our clients during major moments in their life is core to our profession and what makes most of us get up and go to work each day.”

More information

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