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Coronavirus: fears for criminal defence lawyers on frontline

By Monidipa Fouzder  >>

Concerns have been raised about the risk of criminal defence solicitors catching the coronavirus after the Gazette was told a solicitor was prevented from taking tissues into a prison.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service has updated its security policy to allow hand sanitiser to be brought into court buildings. Court users will be asked by security guards to use it ‘to prove it’s not harmful’.

However, Daniel Bonich, vice-chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, told the Gazette that solicitors will be visiting clients in cells and prisons some of whom ‘may not wash their hands at the best of times’.

Bonich said solicitors visiting prisons must put their belongings in lockers. When they see prisoners for visits that can last for a few hours, they are only allowed have paperwork and IT devices with them.

‘I don’t want to sound alarmist but I wanted to put the issue on people’s radar,’ Bonich said. He said he knew someone who was not allowed to take tissues into a prison.

The government’s coronavirus action plan states that advice has been provided to prison and probation services.

Bonich said: ‘If the coronavirus becomes a more widespread issue, will police custody sergeants be asking people when they are detained if they have been to one of the places [affected] or if they have any symptoms? Once they have got those answers, will they be communicating that to the duty solicitor call centre or us? If there’s a prisoner who has the coronavirus, what’s the policy going to be in terms of notifying people, cleaning the facilities? We are told about government plans – what are the plans for us? I do not think there are any – they’ve forgotten about us.’

A spokesperson for HM Prison and Probation Service said: ‘We have put in place robust contingency plans in consultation with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care. These use available evidence and prioritise the safety of staff, prisoners and visitors while making sure normal regimes experience the minimum possible disruption. As a result of this planning, prisons are well prepared to take immediate action wherever cases or suspected cases are identified, including the isolation of individuals where necessary.’

(Courtesy: Law Gazette Society)