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Covid Joint Interim Interview Protocol – no longer in use for suspects under the age of 18 or adults who are vulnerable

Joint Interim Interview Protocol between the National Police Chiefs Council, Crown Prosecution Service, Law Society, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association

Version 3 – May 2021

The Joint Interim Interview Protocol (JIIP) between the Police, CPS and lawyers is intended to assist investigators and prosecutors in deciding whether suspects should be interviewed as part of a police investigation during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is regularly reviewed, and the latest version is effective from 17 May 2021. The latest guidance is the first phase of an aspiration to withdraw the protocol as national restrictions are eased and as such it will no longer apply where the suspect is aged under 18 or is a vulnerable adult.

Details

The JIIP protocol remains in place for all adult detainees but no longer applies to suspects who are under 18 or adults who are vulnerable as defined in PACE Code C Paragraph 1.12(d) and 1.4.

The guidance states that, for public health reasons, PACE interviews may need to be postponed or even dispensed with in some circumstances. Interviews should only take place where there is a genuine and pressing need for an interview with all parties present, and if so, it must be carried out in accordance with precautionary behaviour, including social distancing.

It also sets out that in the context of the pandemic, remote interviews by video and audio link are within the spirit of the amendments to criminal procedure, law and evidence as set out in the Coronavirus Act 2020. Remote interviews are therefore a fair, reasonable and proportionate option to be made available to an adult suspect with no vulnerabilities who has the benefit of legal advice and who, having been fully informed and advised, consents to a remote interview.

Commentary

The withdrawal of the JIIP has been introduced in stages, and this first stage has been introduced in line with the lockdown easing measures which became effective as of 17 May 2021. The effect of withdrawal in this way appears to have the effect that under 18s and vulnerable adults are able to be interviewed at the police station without satisfying the additional criteria of there being a genuine and pressing need for an interview. Additionally, remote interviews will not be deemed to be a reasonable and proportionate option for this population. Government advice regarding precautionary measures, including mask wearing and social distancing will presumably still apply for interviews conducted in person.

This change to the guidance in this way suggests that under 18s and vulnerable adults benefit most from prompt, in person interviews taking place. Whilst a reduction in delay is to be welcomed, particularly for these vulnerable groups, it does not necessarily follow that the removal of remote interview options necessarily serves these groups interests. It would be wise, particularly in the case of young people who will not have had the benefit of vaccination, to canvas their views on attending an interview in person and to make representations against this where necessary to safeguard both their legal rights, and their right not to unnecessarily increase their risk of exposure to coronavirus. Furthermore, any measure which encourages a more pragmatic approach when considering whether an interview should be postponed has the potential to benefit child suspects, particlarly where overnight detention is concerned.

 

Vivien Cochrane

Criminal defence solicitor