Secretive court to consider Government spying on lawyers’ communications

A court which usually sits in secret will tomorrow (Thursday) consider whether the Government should be forced to release more information regarding its surveillance of legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients.

In a rare public hearing, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) — which is responsible for oversight of the intelligence services — will hear further argument in a complaint brought by two families who were subjected to ‘rendition’ and torture in a joint MI6-CIA-Libyan operation.

The al Saadi and Belhadj families are concerned that the Government may have given itself an unfair advantage in a separate, High Court case concerning their mistreatment, by listening in to communications with their legal teams at charity Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day. Legal privilege — which protects confidential communications between lawyer and client — is a central principle in British law which helps ensure the right to a fair trial.

Last week, minutes before an IPT hearing, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ promised to release their secret policies regarding the interception and use of legally privileged communications. Parts of those policies have now been received by the legal teams, but lawyers will argue tomorrow that the current disclosure is inadequate. Tomorrow’s hearing will also consider whether the Government should be required to disclose how many times it has breached legal privilege and used private lawyer-client information.

Commenting, Cori Crider, a Director at Reprieve and member of the families’ legal team said: “We are gravely concerned that information from the Libyan families’ private calls with us has been taken and misused. For the government to eavesdrop on lawyer-client calls – and then to use the information to give itself an unfair advantage in a case about the kidnap and torture of pregnant women and children – sinks below ‘not cricket’. It is illegal. If this has happened, it will have to be put right.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166.

2. The hearing will take place tomorrow (Thursday November 6) in the Rolls Building, Fetter Lane, at 1030 GMT. Full Court listing details will available at:

http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/court-lists/list-cause-rolls from 1630 GMT today.