Arrangements are now well established to enable prisoners in police stations to have access to free legal advice, day or night. Cases before 88 per cent. of all magistrates' courts and 94 per cent. of busy courts now originate in police stations covered by a duty solicitor service. The Law Society continues to encourage improved coverage at local level.
Will my hon. and learned Friend take note of the fact that the overnight duty solicitor scheme, far from providing advice and assistance to suspects whose civil liberties might be at risk, is being exploited by old lags who could perfectly well wait until 9 o'clock in the morning? Surely that is not the intention of the scheme and is not good for the morale of that scheme.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 constitutes a balance between proper and effective powers for the police, which may get the old lag into the police station, and a safeguard of the rights and liberties of the subject. The right of access to legal advice is an important safeguard. We believe that that balance is working well.
I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the code of practice are perfectly clear as to the right to legal advice, and they should be followed.
Will my hon. and learned Friend consider a review of the procedures of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act relating to the detention of prisoners at a police station and the interviews in the light of the fact that so many hours are being spent by police officers on those statements? That task is reducing the effectiveness of policing on the streets and is causing widespread worry among the police force and the public.
I note carefully what my hon. Friend has said. Our evidence is that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is, on the whole, working well. However, I shall take my hon. Friend's remarks into account.