First details of Government’s secret lawyer-client spying policies revealed

A rare public hearing of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has for the first time revealed details of UK security services’ secret policies on the interception of private calls between lawyers and their clients.

The existence of the secret policies on legally-privileged material emerged in the course of a torture case brought by legal charity Reprieve and others, on behalf of Libyan rendition victims Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, Sami al-Saadi and their families.

Lawyers for Mr Belhaj and Mr al-Saadi — who in 2004 were abducted with their families in a joint MI6-Libyan operation and rendered to Libya, where they faced years of torture — are fighting to have these policies disclosed, saying they fear their conversations with their clients have been spied on. The confidentiality of those conversations is bound by legal professional privilege (LPP).

In documents discussed at yesterday’s hearing, the Government admitted that the policies provide “guidance” on the sharing of privileged material with security service personnel who are subject to litigation — such as in the Belhaj and al-Saadi case — but refused to say whether such sharing would take place.

In response to questions on this and related issues, the Government’s lawyers said that to answer fully “would be damaging to the public interest or prejudicial to national security.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve strategic director and a lawyer for the Belhaj and Saadi families, said: “MI6 helped kidnap my clients and ‘rendered’ them to Gaddafi’s dungeons – but the security services’ misdeeds didn’t stop there. We now know that each security service has at least a policy on their interception of privileged lawyer-client conversations — policies they claim are ‘too secret’ to disclose.

“The reason for these hard-line tactics is clear: there is a real risk that privileged information has been improperly used in our clients’ torture claims. If it’s true that information from their spying has tainted government officials or lawyers involved in the Libyan torture cases, then the government has a massive problem on its hands.”