Permit from police for lawyers to attend court is unconstitutional & dangerous
2 June 2021
We refer to the Law Minister’s announcement yesterday that lawyers will need a police permit to attend court for criminal cases involving new prosecutions, remand orders, and various criminal applications.
Imposing the requirement of a police permit for the exercise of legal representation is a blatant infringement of the right of the public to legal representation, enshrined under Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution. The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 does not allow any abrogation of the fundamental liberties protected under the Federal Constitution.
Whilst we fully understand the exigencies of the battle against Covid-19, this restriction upon access to lawyers is unnecessary, burdensome and creates a dangerous precedent. Lawyers would obviously only go to court to represent their clients and not otherwise. Why then impose a police permit requirement, which allows the police to deny legal representation to the public should they decide to do so.Lawyers are officers of the court and are an integral part of the criminal justice system and must be treated as such.
It must be understood that the nature of criminal cases aresudden and unpredictable; lawyers may only receive instructions at the 11th hour and may not have the necessary documentation to prove that that they have cases in court, especially with clients who are facing fresh charges or remand applications that will only be registered by the courts the morning of the case itself.
Access to justice must be given freely and must not be contingent on the permission of enforcement bodies, who may have competing interest against those arrested who want to exercise their right to legal counsel. Giving the power to the police to decide on whether lawyers could go to court to represent clients is akin to a police state.
This is a total lack of oversight and/or lack of understanding by the government on the machinery and realities of the criminal justice system. What is even more surprising is this condition was announced by the law minister, who himself was a senior legal practitioner.
We hereby urge the government to revoke this unnecessary regulation that impedes lawyers from exercising their duties. Despite the lockdown, the government at all times has a duty to ensure that the justice system is operational and this can only be done if lawyers are given free access to represent their clients in court without being at the mercy of the police to do so.
Lawyers for Liberty