Call centre: team aims to offer post-Cadder solution to 24/7 demands

A GROUP of high-profile criminal lawyers in Scotland have formed the legal equivalent of an out-of-hours GP co-operative to help hard-pressed practitioners cope with police station call-outs in the post-Cadder world.

John Scott QC, Vincent McGovern and Ian Bryce are three of the seven directors of ESTO, which launches today and aims to start operations in January.

The service is aimed largely at sole practitioners or small firms struggling to cope with a big increase in the number of call-outs since the UK Supreme Court ruling forced a change in Scots law meaning a suspect was entitled to legal representation from the very beginning of a police station detention.

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Mr Scott said members of ESTO – working from a duty rota – would attend the initial call-out, but refuse to take on the client afterwards, handing client and case details back to his regular lawyer: “The system is a bit like a doctors’ co-operative. You might go to a different surgery in a different area for an out-of-hours emergency but you are back at your normal GP on Monday morning.”

ESTO directors saw a need through their own experience, and initial feedback was very positive, he told The Scotsman: “There is a problem in balancing your personal life with increased call-out demands – and we came up with a solution that allows solicitors to delegate police station advice work and keep their clients.

“At the moment, people are just muddling along – but some sole practitioners were finding it impossible. They would get calls in the early hours and attend the police station, and then be expected in court the next day. They couldn’t do it; they weren’t geared up for this new 24-hour side to the job. One made a quality of life decision and switched off his phone.”

Mr Scott said his own firm, Capital Defence Lawyers, had initially drawn up its own rota, but ran into problems when they had to give time off to an exhausted solicitor who was due in court but had been at a police station the night before.

ESTO has seven directors – Scott, Bryce and McGovern, along with Scott’s colleague John Keenan, Bryce’s Central Criminal Solicitors colleague Neil Robertson, Ken Dalling (Dalling Solicitors) and Stuart Munro, managing partner of Livingstone Brown, the largest legal aid firm in Scotland.

The venture already has coverage in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Ayrshire, and Scott expects it will grow over time.

He said ESTO solicitors would make it clear they were acting on behalf of a client’s normal solicitor. “People have lost business because a client gets a duty solicitor and says the next day ‘I want the guy who came to see me last night’.

“Some firms might choose to make their own arrangements, but you either never turn off your phone – or risk losing clients and not having them properly looked after. We will see the client initially and hand them back. ESTO will not have clients as such – our clients will be legal firms.”

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Firms such as ESTO – named after a Latin phrase used in court pleadings as a fall-back position, as that is what the stand-in lawyers are – are more established in England, where solicitors have been involved in police station advice for almost 20 years.

ESTO solicitors will be fully trained on all relevant law by the directors.

The legal training will be devised by Mr Scott, who was involved in drafting the only relevant guidance available to the legal profession in Scotland – Giving Legal Advice at Police Stations: Practical Pointers.

Mr Scott also appeared in the Ambrose and B cases at the UK Supreme Court this year, and is up to date on good practice concerning advice to suspects in England and elsewhere.

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