Government fights to keep lawyer snooping details secret
March 13, 2015
The UK government today argued that it should not have to admit to several Libyan renditions victims, or to the public, whether it spied unlawfully on their protected communications with their lawyers.
Abdul Hakim-Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar were kidnapped, tortured and sent to Libya in 2004 in a joint MI6-CIA operation. A second rendition operation targeted Sami al-Saadi, his wife Karima Ait Baaziz, and their four children between the ages of six and twelve. Both families filed a case in 2013 with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), concerning alleged eavesdropping by UK intelligence services on their confidential communications with their lawyers at Reprieve and Leigh Day – which would give the Government an unfair advantage in court. In November last year, the government admitted that its policies on spying on legally-privileged communications were unlawful.
At today’s IPT hearing, the government’s lawyers argued that, even if the government did unlawfully intercept the legally-privileged communications of the Libyan families, it should be able to keep that fact secret from both the families, their lawyers, and the public. Lawyers for Reprieve and Leigh Day are arguing that in effect, the government’s argument would mean the security and intelligence services “should not be subject to public censure or scrutiny even when they act unlawfully.”
Today’s hearing follows revelations yesterday that MPs on Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) have questioned the security agencies over the spying allegations. The Committee’s report concerning the case was titled “allegations in the media,” strongly suggesting that the Committee learned of the issue of lawyer-client spying only after reading reports in the press.
Commenting, Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and a lawyer for the Belhaj and al-Saadi families,said:
“We have forced the security services to admit that for years, they used illegal lawyer-client spying policies. They claimed the sky would fall in if we saw those policies – but in fact, all it exposed was patent illegality. Now they say that even if they have eavesdropped and given themselves an unfair advantage in the torture cases, neither the victims nor the public ever have a right to know. That is obviously wrong, and the IPT should shut it down.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Reprieve on +44 (0) 207 553 8140.
2. Copies of the documents submitted to today’s IPT hearing are available on request.
3. The ISC’s report can be found here. The reference to the Belhadj case is at the top of p99.