The protocol to assist police deciding whether suspects should be interviewed during the Covid-19 pandemic as been amended in ways which impact child suspects.
The changes to the protocol relevant to children are as follows:
- Defence lawyers can now attend interviews by audio link (telephone).
- In the case of children the physical presence of an appropriate adult is always required for interview, save for urgent interviews in accordance with Code C 11.18. This applies to partial and fully virtual interviews.
- Special care should be taken in deciding whether, and how, an interview of a child should proceed. Where legal representation in interview is to be provided remotely the custody officer (or interviewing officer when the suspect is not in custody) should comply with the principles contained in PACE Code C 12.9A.This includes considering, on a case by case basis, whether a suspect’s ability to communicate confidently and effectively for the purpose of the interview is likely to be adversely affected, undermined or limited without the physical presence of a legal advisor. This assessment must be made in consultation with the legal advisor and appropriate adult (where one is required).
Amendments to the protocol are welcomed as the original version did not refer to children specifically. Many children arrested by the police have significant communication difficulties and their ability to understand the process is likely to be limited when they can only access their lawyer by telephone. It is hoped that this amendment will serve to protect children from the injustice of being put through an interrogation they are unable to effectively participate in.