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Legal Aid Scheme: Coronavirus

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN HL3643, tabled on 28 April 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the risk posed to legal aid lawyers who have to attend police stations and psychiatric hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Answered on

13 May 2020

The safety of legal aid practitioners is of critical importance and the Government has taken steps to ensure their safety, while also ensuring that individuals can still receive crucial legal advice.

Guidance has been issued that all Mental Health Tribunals should be conducted remotely. Where this is not possible, secure mental health inpatient settings tend to be configured in such a way that isolation of patients is straightforward. NHS England and Improvement have taken steps to ensure rigorous infection control procedures and have restricted all non-essential visits, while still permitting essential legal visits. These measures minimise the risk of infection spreading within inpatient settings and so protects attending legal aid practitioners.

Criminal legal advice can continue to be delivered over the telephone via the Defence Solicitors Call Centre. A joint criminal justice interview protocol has been issued stating that legal advice should take place whenever possible over the telephone or by video link. Where this is not possible, interviews must be carried out in accordance with Government advice and the NPCC has issued guidance on the safe operation of custody suites to support this.

To further support this, HMCTS have launched a new cloud video platform to expand remote hearing capacity and enable all parties in a criminal hearing to take part remotely.

We have ensured that mental health and crime providers will be remunerated for remote advice in the same manner as for in-person hearings.