MI6 has been forced to reveal documents detailing how it may access legally privileged communications between solicitors and their clients, even if the lawyers are suing the government.
Policy guidance handed over to the civil liberties organisation Reprieve shows how the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) is attempting to regulate its mass surveillance practices and demonstrate compliance with the law.
The revelations have emerged from a case brought by lawyers for two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, who, along with their families, were abducted in a joint MI6-CIA operation and sent back to Tripoli to be tortured by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2004.
Their complaint about illegal monitoring is being heard before the investigatory powers tribunal and a full trial of the issues is expected this spring.
Exchanges between lawyers and their clients enjoy a special protected status under UK law. Following exposure of widespread monitoring by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, Belhaj’s lawyers feared that their exchanges with their clients could have been compromised by GCHQ’s interception of phone conversations and emails.
To demonstrate that its policies satisfy legal safeguards, MI6 has been required to disclose internal guidance on how intelligence staff should deal with material protected by legal professional privilege.