Lawyers demand privacy
Criminal lawyers are threatening action unless a courthouse interview room can be plugged to stop confidential discussions leaking out.
There are concerns conversations in the temporary Palmerston North courthouse setup can be heard outside the room's confines, a situation the region's members of the Criminal Bar Association are unhappy with.
Since an edict banning lawyers from the court's cells to talk to clients, they have been given an interview room in the bowels of the building.
There they discuss legal issues with clients, until a permanent room can be set up.
But there are concerns the room is not soundproof - giving confidential conversations an accidental audience.
Ministry of Justice officials say they have introduced measures to soundproof the room, while the bar association says if the facility is not up to scratch, lawyers will refuse to visit clients in custody after the end of the month.
Heightened security measures introduced this year prevent lawyers going out the back of a courtroom to the cell area.
The move was prompted by a lawyer being assaulted while with a client in an interview room with no security features, a lawyer breaking up a fight between two prisoners, and a prisoner stripping off his clothes and smearing himself with his own faeces in an area lawyers previously accessed.
Lawyer Peter Coles said conversations in the temporary interview room could be heard in the corridor and adjourning cells. If others could hear what was being discussed, then "absolute confidentiality" was missing.
"...if we don't have proper interview facilities available where we're guaranteed confidentiality, then we won't be taking instructions from people at the courthouse."
This would mean people could appear in court without seeing their lawyer, or an off-site room would have to be set up.
A ministry spokesman said steps to soundproof the temporary room had been taken, including the removal of vents, adding soundproof material and moving chairs from the corridor outside. Police on cell-watch were also asked to keep the area clear, the spokesman said.
The ministry had sent a letter to the bar association last month but was yet to hear back.
"We are receptive to their concerns and they are welcome to come and talk to us about what we can do to make things better in the short term. The long-term solution is not straightforward," the spokesman said. It would involve building work to create a permanent, secure interview room.
The ministry was "working through a process" on developing that but the spokesman said a time frame could not be put on the work.
Mr Coles said the bar association would advise the ministry of the end-of-the-month deadline, while lawyers would assess the effectiveness of the work done so far on the temporary room.
"If they say they've soundproofed it, then we'll check it."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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