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New security powers could stop right to confidential legal advice at UK borders

The Law Society has warned that new proposals in the counter-terrorism and border security bill could undermine the rights of those who are stopped at UK borders. The bill proposes that those detained could be denied access to legal advice for up to an hour and that officers would then be able to listen in to any conversations between the detainee and their private legal consultations.

The bill has already been passed in the House of Commons and is due to be debated in the House of Lords where it is expected to be met with close scrutiny. According to the Home Office, these rules do not differ from those in place in other legislation. The proposals already exist in code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and schedule 8 of the 2000 Terrorism Act.

Introducing powers that delay access to legal advice and allow individuals to be questioned for one hour before they are granted legal counsel is problematic. According to Christina Blacklaws, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, “The idea people could be questioned for an hour before being able to get legal advice runs against all the usual standards of justice.”

Under the new rules, those suspected of terrorism offences could be questioned for one hour before being allowed access to legal counsel. This legal counsel would only be permitted under the “sight and hearing of a qualified officer”. This is intended to stop detainees from abusing legal privilege to pass on information to a third party, destroy evidence or hindering the recovering of property which is integral to the investigation.

According to a report by Parliament’s joint committee on human rights: “Powers [in the bill] unjustifiably interfere with the right to timely and confidential legal advice, and therefore ultimately interfere with the right to a fair trial (if prosecutions are eventually brought).”

In response to the concerns raised by the JCHR report, Ben Wallace, Minister for Security and Economic Crime writes: “As the Committee notes in its report, when powers impact on human rights, they must be “necessary in the pursuit of a legitimate aim, and proportionate to that aim. I strongly believe that stopping terrorism is a legitimate and just aim.”

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