The police were using the power to detain too freely and detainees’ lawyers were failing to challenge its use, according to a report by Transform Justice. The group calls for increased scrutiny around detention to not just focus on detainee’s health and welfare, but to question the rationale for detaining at all. Transform Justice argue that there is a clear need to challenge the need for detention by the detainee’s lawyer. However police station lawyers are paid such a low fixed fee on legal aid that this militates against proper scrutiny.
According to the report, a tiny fraction of detention requests are refused, less than 1%. When questioned as to why custody officers do not push back more, one custody division worker said that the police were ‘so hierarchical, I think that would be a very brave custody sergeant who would do that’.
‘Low fixed fees for police station work remain a barrier to lawyers doing anything other than interview attendance, but not everything has to happen face- to-face,’ Transform Justice say. Access to legal representation was the ‘elephant in the room – around 50% of suspects do not even request a lawyer at the police station’. ‘A key step to scrutinising the use of police custody would be to increase the number of suspects who have legal representation in the first place,’ it continued.