Secretive UK court holds rare open hearing on Libyan renditions

October 29, 2014

Image of hands hanging on the bars of a prison cell

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) will today hold a rare open hearing as part of a case examining whether Government surveillance has undermined torture victims’ right to a fair trial.

Lawyers for the Belhadj and al Saadi families, who were ‘rendered’ to Libya in a joint MI6-CIA-Libyan operation in 2004, have brought a case to the IPT alleging that the UK’s mass surveillance programme may have breached confidential communications between them and their legal team.  Such a breach would be a serious violation of legal professional privilege, a key principle of law in the UK, and would potentially undermine the fairness of a civil claim Mr Belhadj and his wife Fatima Boudchar have brought against the British Government over its central role in their rendition and torture.

The IPT, which usually sits in secret and often does not even publish its judgements, will today take the rare step of holding an open hearing on the case, involving lawyers for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It emerged at an IPT hearing last week that each security service has a secret policy about the interception of private lawyer-client communications, but the Government has resisted disclosing those policies and said the IPT has no power to require them to turn this evidence over. Today’s hearing will address how much, if any, evidence of the secret policies the families’ lawyers are to receive.

The hearing will take place today (Wednesday) at 16:30 GMT in the Rolls Building, which is off Fetter Lane in the City of London, before Mr Justice Burton, sitting with Mr Seabrook QC and Professor Zellick CBE QC.

The two families are being represented by legal charity Reprieve and UK solicitors Leigh Day.

Cori Crider, Reprieve strategic director and a lawyer for the Belhadj and Saadi families said: “Up to now the Government has stonewalled 100% of our requests for more information about their lawyer-client spying policies. But policies about how the Agencies treat lawyer-client calls are not a proper national security secret; all we are asking is whether the Agencies respect one of the most fundamental principles of British law. It’s very likely that the reason they are fighting not to turn this evidence over is that the policies are, simply put, no good. If we get to see them, they will probably raise an even more serious question: has private lawyer-client material contaminated lawyers or officials advising the government in Belhaj and his wife’s torture case? If it has, there will be serious consequences for the people involved.”

ENDS

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