An inquiry has been demanded into claims lawyers’ legally-protected conversations with clients in jail are routinely bugged.
Opposition parties said such a practice would strike “at the heart” of the justice system and suggested it could only have been sanctioned by ministers. And one leading QC warned that the courts could let violent offenders walk free if it was shown their meetings with lawyers had been taped.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw has already launched an inquiry into claims a Labour MP’s jail meetings with a terror suspect constituent were bugged at Woodhill Prison, Milton Keynes.
Sadiq Khan’s case sparked particular controversy amid suggestions it breached a ban on bugging MPs – and is being examined by Chief Surveillance Commissioner Sir Christopher Rose.
Now the Tories and Liberal Democrats are demanding a fresh probe into claims by an unnamed whistleblower that it was part of a wider practice nationwide.
The individual, said to have “detailed knowledge” of the operation at Woodhill, told the Daily Telegraph “hundreds” of meetings with lawyers had been eavesdropped. Murderers and other category-A prisoners – including Soham murderer Ian Huntley – were said to have been targeted as well as terror suspects.
The Ministry of Justice said covert listening operations were “a matter for the police and are undertaken in line with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000”.
But Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the allegations were so serious they merited a new inquiry.
“If it is… a widespread practice it is very hard to imagine that could have happened without ministerial approval because the risks are so great – it goes so close to the heart of our justice system and it puts the whole trial process at risk,” he said.
“That is why I have called for Mr Straw to set up a second inquiry – not to stretch the first one, we need the answer to the Rose inquiry in a couple of weeks’ time – to actually establish what the real practice is, how common this is and what needs to be done about it.”
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