Monthly Archives: February 2015

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Call for Better Protections From “Unlawful” Government Snooping

Snooping

The government has admitted to having “unlawful” policies on intercepting communications that take place between lawyers and clients. The admission has prompted a call from professional bodies in the legal industry for better protection of professional privilege.

According to emails sent by the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and released by Reprieve, a charity specialising in legal activism, “since January 2010 the policies and procedures for interception/obtaining, analysis, use, disclosure and destruction of legally privileged material have not been in accordance with human rights legislation.”

The government admitted that its policies were unlawful in the course of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s proceedings. Specifically, it made the admission in submissions as the tribunal hears the case brought against the government Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, two Libyans who were returned to their home country in 2013 as part of a joint UK-US operation. Filing their case in 2013, Belhaj and Bouchar claimed that confidential communications with their solicitors had been intercepted by the UK’s intelligence service while they were detained. The government was forced to admit in November that this was indeed the case.

Cori Crider, the lawyer who is representing Belhaj and Boudchar, accused the government of allowing intelligence agencies an excessive degree of freedom to intercept conversations between lawyers and clients.

The Law Society was also critical of the government following the admission that policies were not lawful. The Society said that the documents released to the tribunal demonstrated that the laws currently in place to protect professional privilege are not sufficient.

In a statement, the Society said: “The absence of explicit protection for legal professional privilege in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) has been of longstanding concern to the Law Society and we have raised our concerns with the Home Office.”

The statement went on to say that “Legal professional privilege is essential to the administration of justice and a pillar of rule of law.” The Society stressed the importance of allowing people to be open and honest when discussing matters with their lawyer without being afraid that the information revealed in these conversations would later be passed on to a judge or brought up in the courtroom.

The Bar Council was similarly critical, with bar chairman Alistair MacDonald QC saying: “Spying on conversations protected by legal professional privilege is fundamentally unacceptable and constitutes a breach of the rule of law.”

Recent legislation introduced to combat terrorism, he said, had done much to undermine “this centuries-old principle.”