The following behaviours are put up as general types of behaviours which can be encountered during the course of duty solicitor work.
Gratuitous concurrence has already been discussed as an indicator that the defendant may not fully understand what has been said by the duty solicitor due to language and cultural barriers. Another situation is where the defendant simply wants to plead guilty on the first court appearance so as to get that unpleasant experience behind them, regardless of the merits of the case or possible defences.
This defendant does not want to say much, is very angry, possibly depressed and resents any intrusion on his or her personal space. This person is likely to be sceptical as to the ability of the duty solicitor to provide assistance.
Some defendants do not want to accept their situation and, knowing the system, they try to exploit the duty solicitor’s altruism by a variety of ploys, including making outrageous demands on time and resources. Some will try to call into question the duty solicitor’s competence if their demands are not met, and will suggest that a better lawyer could and would get the results they desire by fair or foul means.
On occasion, the duty solicitor will encounter a defendant who is clearly unable to give adequate instructions and for whom arises the question of fitness to plead. For example, there is a considerable body of recent literature on alcohol-related brain damage. People who have committed offences whilst severely intoxicated are likely to have poor memories, and may also exhibit symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage syndrome [see Mental Health Issues chapter]. In severe cases, the duty solicitor may need to consider requesting the defendant be referred for a neuropsychological assessment and/or obtain specialist assistance, particularly in relation to accommodation when bail applications are to be made.
Duty solicitors are likely to come across defendants whose concerns for others, in particular their children or relatives, outweigh their concerns for their own situation. Such defendants may be extremely cooperative with the investigating authorities, and when they present to the duty solicitor, may show signs of being more concerned about the fate of their relatives than of themselves. It is obviously necessary to indicate to them that their ability to look out for others may indeed depend upon their ability to look out for themselves by providing proper instructions.
Some defendants will be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In these cases, if effective communication is impossible, the duty solicitor is clearly obliged to obtain instructions to have the matter held over until the defendant is able to communicate effectively. If warranted, the duty solicitor should also obtain instructions to have the defendant medically examined, particularly if he or she shows signs of alcohol or drug withdrawal. A person may be subject to alcohol or drug withdrawal when they have not had a drink or drug (or methadone or buprenorphine maintenance treatment) for some time, and may exhibit signs of sweating and shaking, or in the worst cases, visual hallucinations. When a defendant under the influence of alcohol or drugs is in custody, instructions should be obtained to warn the cell guards of the defendant's condition, and remind the cell guards if necessary of their obligation and duty of care to defendants who show signs of alcohol or drug withdrawal, or severe intoxication.