Runciman attacks police hostility to defence lawyers: Royal Commission chairman warns police to accept presence of solicitors in cells

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The Independent Online
SENIOR police officers were warned yesterday that the service should accept the reality of defence lawyers giving advice in police stations.

Viscount Runciman, the chairman of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, also reminded them of the need to deal firmly with allegations of malpractice.

Lord Runciman said that the commission had been 'disturbed' by the number of officers who regarded the presence of solicitors in stations as an 'enemy to be kept out or obstructed'. The commission was concerned that not enough suspects were getting the legal advice to which they were entitled and wanted to see a system in which the principle of legal advice being available to anyone suspected of crime was an integral part.

Speaking to senior police officers and local authority leaders in Birmingham on the day after the report of his commission was published, Lord Runciman said that police officers also had to accept the fact that barristers would subject them to strenuous cross-examination in court. 'We were increasingly struck by the need for police officers of all ranks to accept the role of the defence lawyer and barristers in the defence system.'

He added that he had 'sympathy' for police officers being cross-examined by barristers who tried deliberately to trip them up and distort their evidence. He suggested that police officers should be given training in dealing with court cross-examination.

But, he went on: 'The fact remains that in a system of justice, whether it is inquisitorial or adversarial . . . the prosecution is going to have to prove its case and the defence is going to be entitled to challenge the prosecution in cross-examination. And quite right, too.'

Later, Lord Runciman told a press conference that the commission had become increasingly aware, during its work, of the damage done to public confidence in the police by incidents involving malpractice, which exerted an influence out of proportion to their number. Because of this it was important that chief officers dealt 'swiftly and effectively' with malpractice to maintain the integrity of the system.

The significance of this was underlined, he suggested, by the fact that the commission had deliberately stepped outside its terms of reference to make recommendations for improving the police discipline system - including lowering the standard of proof in disciplinary hearings.

Lord Runciman said that he hoped the report as a whole would help the police service recover the confidence of the public. It was important the police recognised the value of improving supervision and training, on which the commission had made recommendations.

Afterwards, Lord Runciman said that he was 'astonished' and 'surprised' by some of the critical reaction to the commission's report, which he suggested might have been based on misunderstandings.

He emphasised that the measures taken as a whole should help future miscarriages of justice and that the proposal to end the automatic right to trial by jury - which has attracted the most criticism - was only bringing England and Wales into line with Scotland.