My Lords, my noble friend’s curtain-raiser has covered a great deal of the ground. I will speak to Amendments 83, 84, 85, 87 and 88, which come from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and seek to ensure that, under Schedule 3 to the Bill, detainees are informed of their rights and provided with timely and confidential legal advice in all four jurisdictions. It is because there is more than one jurisdiction that there are a number of amendments.
We are concerned that the safeguard of access to a lawyer is not adequately protected under this Bill. In particular, it is not clear that an individual will even be informed of his right to request access—apparently, this is available only on request. Access to a lawyer may not be available when a person is questioned initially; it may be delayed. In our view, it is not sufficient to rely on a code of practice in this area. The legislation should be adequate in itself and, as regards access, unqualified or very close to unqualified. I will come to that in a moment.
The Government told the committee that a code of practice would make clear that permission to seek legal advice should be permitted when “reasonably practicable” and that the,
“restrictions are to mitigate against the possibility of an examination being obstructed or frustrated as a result of a detainee using his right to a solicitor”.
Leaving aside whether we should accept the second point—and I do not think I do—it is my view that the two statements are barely consistent or compatible.
My noble friend quoted the Government’s response that legal privilege might be used to pass on instructions to a third party through intimidation or a coded message. These powers, or restrictions, unjustifiably interfere with the right to timely and confidential advice and therefore, ultimately, with the right to a fair trial if there is a prosecution. I make that point because the Joint Committee approaches everything from the point of view of human rights, the right to a fair trial being one. There is not in the Bill a sufficient safeguard against the arbitrary exercise of the powers.
The last time I recall there being a question on legal privilege being regarded as a problem by the Government, I sat and listened in a Minister’s office to something like a seminar with the Minister and two very senior lawyers—both Members of this House and both of whom are here this afternoon—who articulated very effectively and authoritatively what I would describe as my own queasiness about the suggestion that access to a solicitor should be restricted. They dealt very effectively with the safeguards that exist against dodgy lawyers, if I may put it like that. After all, this issue is not peculiar to this situation. As my noble friend said, there have been suggestions such as the pre-approval of vetted panels of lawyers.
I am not quite convinced—we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—that Amendment 86, tabled by the Labour Benches, meets the Government’s points or deals with the principle, but we urge the Government to consider how a client’s fundamental human rights in this area should be protected, because there are other ways of dealing with this.