UK Government to release secret policy on surveillance of lawyers after last-minute u-turn
The Government today agreed to release its until-now secret policies governing how and when it eavesdrops on confidential communication between lawyers and their clients, in response to a case brought by victims of rendition and torture.
The concession was made ahead of a hearing of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) – a highly secretive quasi-court which considers complaints brought against the intelligence services – in response to a claim brought by two families who were ‘rendered’ by MI6 and the CIA to Col Gaddafi’s prisons in 2004.
The IPT case concerns whether the Government had spied on confidential communications between the victims – the Belhadj and al Saadi families - and their legal teams, concerning a separate, ongoing claim which they brought against the UK Government in the High Court. If the Government has spied on these communications, it will have breached the long-established principle that each side is allowed confidential communication with its legal team. Doing so would give the Government an unfair advantage, and threaten the victims’ right to a fair hearing.
Today, the Government conceded shortly before a rare public hearing of the IPT that it would release its policies on the interception of legally privileged material, although only in redacted form. It has been given until 17:00 GMT tomorrow (Thursday 30 October) to do so.
However, lawyers for the Government refused to either confirm or deny whether the Government has in fact ever misused legally privileged material which it has obtained through its surveillance programmes. A further IPT hearing, scheduled for next Thursday (6 October) will consider whether the Government should disclose this information. It will also examine whether the Government should be required to release training material issued to the intelligence services on how to handle privileged material which they have intercepted.
Commenting, Reprieve Director Cori Crider, who along with solicitors Leigh Day is representing the Belhadj and al Saadi families, said: “This evidence is welcome but long overdue. It's plain the government hopes to avoid the central question in this case: has private lawyer-client material improperly made its way into the hands of officials or lawyers involved in the torture claim? Time will tell, and we will just have to see what emerges from the documents tomorrow to find out whether the policies are with the paper they are printed on.”
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: email@example.com / +44 (0) 7791 755 415
2. Further information on the cases of the Belhadj and al Saadi families can be found on Reprieve’s website at http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/abdelhakimbelhadj/ and http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/samialsaadi/