Report says that CDS Direct restricts access to justice

The universal right of all suspects to consult a solicitor of their choice has been undermined by recent changes introduced by the government to the delivery of legal advice for those arrested and detained by the police, claims a new report published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London.

The authors, Professors Lee Bridges and Ed Cape, argue that the new services:

  • were never properly evaluated;
  • were forced through after a rushed and inadequate consultation and botched parliamentary procedure;
  • are of questionable legality under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act;
  • may contravene the European Convention on Human Rights; and
  • fly in the face of a substantial and accumulated evidence base on access to legal services at police stations.

The report, CDS Direct: Flying in the face of the evidence, examines in detail the introduction of two related schemes in 2008 for the delivery of advice to those arrested and detained by the police: Criminal Defence Service (CDS) Direct and the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC). It finds that a previous government commitment to equitable access to legal representation has been replaced by a drive to secure convictions and to limit access to legal services.

Professor Ed Cape said: ‘Previously, when a person arrested and detained in a police station asked for a lawyer, the police were obliged to contact that lawyer directly as soon as possible. Now, even in a straightforward drink-driving case where the suspect is willing to pay privately, they will have to go through six stages of referral before they can speak to their lawyer. More worrying is the fact that this can also be the case for a suspect who is mentally ill. The schemes may save a small proportion of the legal aid budget, but at what cost to access to justice?’

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