LEGAL EAGLE: Am I entitled to free legal advice?

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Some readers will recall my earlier article in which I explained the court charges scheme which I, and others, believed to be unfair.

I am pleased to say that questions have been asked of the Minister about this and he has said he will look at it again. It would be presumptuous of me and of the Hartlepool Mail to claim that we had anything to do with it.

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This article however is about something different. If you are unfortunate enough to be interviewed as a suspect in the police station you are entitled to free legal advice and assistance, which means that you can ask to have a solicitor at the police station free of charge.

The solicitor will advise you about the investigation and will continue to advise and assist you during the interview.

You would think that given the opportunity to have free legal advice everyone would take it.

However many clients come to see me and tell me that they did not have a solicitor when they were interviewed.

Usually they tell me that they cannot remember what they said. Usually when I ask them why they did not have a solicitor they say it is because they had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide.

In deciding whether to prosecute, one of the matters which the Crown Prosecution Service take into account is the strength of the evidence.

They will look at not only the general evidence but also at what a suspect has said in interview.

Another matter which the Crown Prosecution Service will take into account is whether it is in the public interest to prosecute and in deciding this they will take into account the general circumstances but also what the suspect said in interview.

You will conclude therefore that what is said in interview is really rather important.

When the police carry out an interview they give the suspect a warning which is called a caution. I will not bore you with the terms of it – it is really quite complicated – but they then say something to the effect that the purpose of the interview is to get to the truth and in doing so they may ask the same question more than once.

What they do not say is if you give an answer which is contrary to your own interests they will check to make sure that you mean what you say. They leave this to you.

I will give you an example. One suspect, when asked why he hit another man, might say in interview “because he hit me”. That would be construed as retaliation which is a crime.

Another suspect might say in answer to the same question, “because I thought he was going to hit me again”, that is self defence and is a defence to a crime.

The two suspects may well have done the same thing and thought the same thing but one has admitted a crime and one has denied it.

I am not suggesting for one minute that a solicitor would say that you should tell something other than the truth but how you say it and what you mean by what you say is very important.

Another example of how important it is, is when you consider the public interest criteria for the Crown Prosecution Service. So another suspect in answer to the same question might say “because I could not stand another beating off him, he has beat me all my life”.

That will be something the Crown Prosecution Service would take into account and the solicitor could quite properly tell you that if that was true it is something that you should tell the police.

Knowing what I know, no-one should be interviewed in a police station without a solicitor present. It is free.

My firm has someone on 24-hour, call seven days a week, to attend the police station.

Until someone withdraws the right to free legal advice, and I hope they never do, then no-one should be without legal representation.