Lawyers in Estonia are opposed to changes in prison regulations which would require a detainee and his or her counsel being separated by a glass panel, and which restrict periods when lawyers would be permitted to meet detained clients.
The new requirement, proposed by the Ministry of the Interior, would mean that the two parties would need to communicate via an intercom system, which members of the Estonian Bar Association said will hinder communication and could potentially compromise legal rights if the conversations were tapped.
"There can be no certainty that unauthorized persons will not listen in to conversations between lawyers and their clients," the association noted in a letter to the ministry, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.
"Communication between counsel and client must take place directly, and without interference of substantive controls," it added.
The association noted that lawyers have a duty of professional confidentiality which would be compromised by the new regulations, should they come into effect, and the resulting means of communication.
The explanatory memorandum to the draft regulations amendments did state that there was scope for a lawyer to have a face to face meeting with his or her client. However, the association said, this draft did not clarify who exactly would be responsible for granting the authorization.
Additionally, the new draft amendments set out a time schedule for meeting with detained persons, at a prison or other place of detention, which would render it more difficult for meetings to take place.
The draft sets the time window for meetings as normal working hours, 9.00 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays to Fridays. However, busy lawyers might struggle to meet with clients at a time when they can be tied up with court sessions or other aspects of the job.
Considerations of travel time to such institutions, and what happens with those detained at weekends or on national holidays, also need to be addressed, the association said.
While permission for "extraordinary" meetings is provided for in the draft, the association said, this still might not be attainable on days off, meaning lawyers and clients could potentially not get to meet at all.
Editor: Andrew Whyte