Government’s new lawyer-snooping guidance “fails dismally” – Reprieve
March 20, 2015
Today (Friday) sees the consultation close on proposed new ‘codes of practice’ for state surveillance of confidential communications between lawyers, journalists, MPs and members of the public.
A response submitted by legal charity Reprieve will warn that the draft codes published by the Government remain “inadequate,” and too “vague” to ensure that confidential communications between people and their lawyers are adequately protected.
The new draft code was published in response to a case brought by Reprieve on behalf of victims of UK-CIA rendition and torture operations. In response to the case, the Government admitted that existing codes governing the security agencies’ ability to eavesdrop on confidential lawyer-client communications were unlawful. As a result, the state had the ability to hand itself an unfair advantage in court by accessing ‘legally privileged’ communications – a move which breaches centuries-old legal principles.
The code is focused not only on Legal Professional Privilege (LPP) but also takes into account other professions where confidentiality is an important concern: notably journalists’ ability to protect their sources, and MPs’ ability to keep communications with their constituents confidential. Although Reprieve’s consultation response does not take into account these areas, the charity is concerned that protections in those areas may be just as inadequate as those concerning LPP.
Reprieve’s consultation response will warn that, “As the Draft Codes currently stand, nothing prevents privileged communications from being passed on to any policy officials or government lawyers involved in legal proceedings,” and that “this clearly gives the government an unfair… advantage” in court.
It will also note that the government’s ability to obtain such information could allow it to “identify potential whistle-blowers and take steps to limit the information they are allowed to provide,” and “could also compromise police investigations…potentially leading to suspects becoming aware of the progress of the police investigation into their wrongdoing.”
Kat Craig, legal director at Reprieve said:
“These proposals fail dismally to strike the balance between security and privacy. At best they expose the government’s failure to grasp the risks of modern day surveillance powers. At worst, they suggest a more sinister reluctance to submit to the rule of law. Of course surveillance plays a crucial role in our nation’s safety, but this can be equally well achieved with proper safeguards in place – something which these proposals clearly fail to provide.”
Notes to editors
1. For more information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8140
2. The response can be read in full, here.