Detention should always be a last resort. Where persons are detained they should have prompt and confidential access to a lawyer. The criminal justice process is daunting and anyone caught up in it is likely to need legal advice. If their case proceeds to prosecution they will want help preparing their defence. Access to lawyers also provides valuable protection against ill treatment. These principles are all clearly set out in the UN's Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

China's criminal procedure law allows lawyers to access their clients after an initial police interrogation which should take place in the first 24 hours. While Chinese lawyers continue to call for the right to be present in police interviews many lawyers report improved access to their clients since the law was revised in 2012.

However, in cases involving one of the "three types of crime": terrorism, major bribery and endangering national security, investigators have the power to restrict access by lawyers.

The problem of accessing lawyers for detainees suspected of one of these three serious offences is exacerbated by the practice of holding these detainees in unofficial places of detention. Euphemistically described as 'residential surveillance in a designated location' (RSDL) or 'retention in custody' the Chinese authorities can hold suspects outside official detention centres (kanshousuo) for periods of up to six months. In effect this makes detainees incommunicado placing them at a high risk of torture.

In the '709' cases, called after the date on which a crackdown was launched against Chinese lawyers, detained lawyers were held for six months in RSDL before being transferred to a detention centre and formally arrested. In the detention centre they were still denied access to lawyers appointed by their families. Instead we saw the appointment of government-approved lawyers, often as part of a televised show trial.

The Rights Practice has been highlighting the problem of restricted access to lawyers through public advocacy, meetings with diplomats and in training on international law.

Photo caption previous page. Lawyers Cheng Hai and Lin Qilei have still to meet their client Wang Quangzhang.