Access to Counsel: Message from Richard Marks QC

A little bit off topic for an IP blog but this is an outrage that deserves the widest possible publicity.

Earlier today members of the Northern Circuit received the following email from our leader Richard Marks QC:

"Dear Colleague

Following my earlier email concerning the arrest of a member of the circuit at Strangeways, I received a number of emails from people who, like me, were outraged at what had happened, and commented how symptomatic it was of the way in which the Bar are so often treated there.

I came to the view that a strong letter was needed in order, as it were, to put down a marker and I am enclosing herewith a copy of the letter that has been sent.


Richard Marks QC"

The text of Marks's letter is as follows:


Dear Mr Keeble,

I am writing to you concerning an incident that occurred on Friday 15th May 2009.

That morning, a senior and respected colleague attended Strangeways for the purpose of a conference with a client, as he has done on many occasions over the years.

Having left his personal effects in a locker in the visitors’ area, he proceeded up the hill to gain access to the prison, where, in accordance with normal procedure he removed his jacket, which he then placed through the scanner.

It then transpired that, through pure inadvertence, he had mistakenly left his mobile phone in the top pocket of his jacket.

Any notion that he was seeking to flout the rules by deliberately smuggling a phone into the prison would, I suggest, be quite absurd, since it would be blindingly obvious that the phone would show up in the scanner, as indeed it did.

In the event, when the barrister in question apologised for the error, he was not permitted to return to the visitors’ centre and place the item in his locker, but rather the police were called, and he was in due course arrested.

Thereafter, he was taken, in police custody, in a police van, to Collyhurst police station, where he was detained and interviewed during the course of the rest of the day, thus missing his court commitments in both the morning as well as the afternoon.

Subsequently, following an analysis of his phone, which was confiscated from him, he was advised by the police that no further action would be taken against him, the police being entirely satisfied, as was manifestly the case that this was a genuine oversight.

The reason why this letter is addressed to you is that I have been informed that you were the Governor who was responsible for implementing the recent policy whereby, as a matter of course, the police should be called in, in circumstances such as this.

If I am mistaken in this belief, I would be obliged if you would pass this letter to whomsoever it should be addressed.

I well understand that security considerations are of the utmost importance, and that, in this regard, it is important to take steps to prevent prisoners having access to mobile phones.

However, it is also important that these matters are approached reasonably and with common sense.

Unfortunately, my experience as well as that of many of my colleagues is that all too frequently we are treated by the officers on reception at Strangeways with a lack of respect which at times borders on disdain.

As a criminal practitioner, and having occasion to visit clients in a large number of different prisons, some of high security, my own experience, which I know to be shared by others, is that there exists a serious attitude problem amongst some of the staff at Strangeways, who will go out of their way to be as difficult as they can to members of the legal profession, as exemplified, I suggest, by the high handed approach adopted on this occasion.

I would appreciate hearing from you in relation to this at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,


There is an important constitution principle here that affects everyone. I hope Marks receives support from across the legal profession and beyond.