RIPA case revelation: Government ‘routinely’ spies on lawyers

Legal policies which allow MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to access confidential privileged communications between lawyers and clients were disclosed in court today.  The documents were disclosed in a claim brought against the government by Libyan man Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Amnesty International. The previously secret documents relate to surveillance procedures which reveal that the government spies on confidential communication between lawyers and their clients. This violates the fundamental constitutional right to confidential legal advice.

Speaking from the IPT, Rachel Logan, Amnesty UK’s Legal Advisor, said:

“We now know that the government sees nothing wrong in routinely spying on the confidential communication between lawyers and clients.

“This clearly violates an age-old principle of English law set down in the sixteenth century; that the correspondence between a person and their lawyer is confidential.

“It could mean, amazingly, that the government uses information they have got from snooping on you, against you, in a case you have brought.

“That affords the government an unfair advantage akin to playing poker in a hall of mirrors.

“Today’s revelations call into question a whole range of concluded cases in which the government has been involved from criminal convictions to asylum proceedings.

“It also calls into question the professional and ethical conduct of individual lawyers working for the government.

“It’s no wonder the government resisted making this disgraceful policy public.

“The government’s disingenuous reliance on ‘national security’ as a reason for not making this policy public previously, is not only deceitful but hugely sinister.”

Amnesty’s counsel told the Court that the guidance contemplates a systematic invasion by state agents of a right at English common law which is absolute, and a key protection of human rights law.

Edited versions of secret documents relating to the conditions under which lawyers’ phones and emails can be intercepted have been released by the government in a rare public hearing of the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which examines complaints against the intelligence services and government use of surveillance.

The government had adamantly refused to reveal the secret policy guidance in three previous hearings citing ‘national security’ grounds, but finally abandoned this claim at today’s hearing.

Amnesty believes the newly-revealed documents raise serious questions about the legality of government policy and practice.