03 February 2006

Solicitors May Refuse PSNI Co-Operation

Derry Journal

Friday 3rd February 2006

The PRO of the Solicitors Criminal Bar Association, Derry man Pearse MacDermott, has said that solicitors in Derry and across the North may have to withdraw their co-operation from the PSNI if client/solicitor confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. He was speaking after it emerged that a Limavady solicitor, Mr. Johnny Sandhu, was being questioned by police about 'serious terrorist activity' and that the questioning was based on tapes made in Antrim police station when the solicitor was meeting with clients.
Mr. MacDermott said last night: "We are gravely concerned and angry that there appears to have been serious interference with client/solicitor confidentiality. "How can any client feel confidence in briefing their solicitor if they cannot be guaranteed that this conversation will remain private." He added: "Client/solicitor confidentiality is an integral part of protecting a client's rights under the law and if the police are going to breach it in this way then we will have to consider what action we can take." Mr. MacDermott added: "We have not yet decided what we can do about this situation but one option we will be considering is withdrawing our services from police stations until this matter is resolved.

"If we cannot meet our clients confident that this is not being recorded then we may have to simply refuse to meet with clients in the precincts of a police station." Following a court appearance where the PSNI applied for an extension of the time to hold Mr. Sandhu his solicitor Mr. Joe Rice complained about the taping of the conversations.
He said those conversations, allegedly taped at Antrim police station, led to Mr Sandhu being questioned about serious terrorist activity including membership of a loyalist paramilitary organisation. In a letter to the Law Society Mr. Rice complained about what had happened and said: "It is a sad day for our criminal justice process that a solicitor cannot guarantee that his advices to his client in a police station may not be free from state interference. "I am sure you will share my concern that the right to confidentiality that must exist between solicitor and client has now been eradicated. "This is a deliberate move by the authorities and no solicitor can at present guarantee his client that any preinterview or indeed post-interview consultations at police stations in Northern Ireland are private and confidential." It is also understood that the Law Society has demanded a meeting with Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde over the arrest.

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