Associate professor Vicky Conway of the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University said that although the DPP ruled four years ago that solicitors were permitted to attend, there was still no legal right to it.
“There is a very real issue that people are not getting the defence they need and entitled to,” said Dr Conway.
She said that while the DPP told gardaí in May 2014 that solicitors were allowed to attend interviews, it was not enshrined in law.
“It is just permission to attend, it is not really enforceable,” she said.
She said the DPP’s decision came in “overnight” and that no one, including gardaí or solicitors, were prepared or trained for the sudden change.
Dr Conway said that, in January 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Barry Doyle (convicted of murdering innocent man Shane Geogeghan in Limerick in November 2008) that there was not a right to have a solicitor present during interviews.
However, it did indicate that it may find such a right in the future, particularly should it concern inferences from silence. The Doyle case is being taken to Europe.
Dr Conway and DCU colleague Yvonne Daly are running an EU-funded programme to train solicitors regarding Garda interviews.
“Having a solicitor attend an interview can be enormously beneficial for suspects,” said Dr Conway.
“It is about much more than preventing things from happening that shouldn’t; it’s about support, understanding the case for a later point, maybe ensuring someone doesn’t get charged who ultimately shouldn’t, building a defence.”
She said Garda interviews can have “far-reaching ramifications”, which could include a suspect making a confession and being subsequently denied a trial.
“In the absence of a lawyer, a detained suspect is in a vulnerable and disempowered position, not understanding the significance of the interview, not knowing what will matter at a later point, not fully understanding all of the rights which apply,” said Dr Conway.
She said other factors include limited education, medical conditions, learning difficulties, addictions and language issues.
Dr Conway said solicitors have disclosed that they “lack confidence” in this new role and often refuse to do it. There are an estimated 20,000 people detained in Ireland every year and only 2,600 had consultations with solicitors, which was not the same as attending an interview as the consultation could be before an interview.
Dr Conway said the Law Society has become involved in their Supralat training project and that garda members also take part in role plays during the training sessions.
They have trained 50 solicitors so far, mainly in Dublin, and are running training in Cork on May11 and 12 and June 23 for solicitors across Munster. She said that all solicitors who attend for interviews should be trained and accredited.