In wake of GCHQ ruling, IPT must act on Govt snooping on lawyers

February 6, 2015

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has today ruled that mass-surveillance of the internet by intelligence agency GCHQ before December 2014 was unlawful. The case marks the first time that the highly-secretive IPT has ever ruled against the intelligence services in its entire, 15-year existence.

Legal charity Reprieve is due to go before the Tribunal next month concerning Government surveillance of confidential – or ‘legally privileged’ – communications between lawyers and their clients. The principle of legal privilege is a long-standing one in UK law, and is crucial to ensuring a fair trial.

The cases have been brought on behalf of the victims of two separate CIA “rendition” operations in which the UK was heavily involved: both cases involve anti-Gaddafi dissidents and their families – including a pregnant woman and four children aged 12 and under. The Belhaj and al Saadi families were both kidnapped and ‘rendered’ to Libya in 2004, where Mr Belhaj and Mr al Saadi were tortured.

The UK government will soon be defending the case in the Supreme Court, and has failed to provide sufficient assurances that it is not snooping on the private legal conversations between the men and their lawyers.

Cori Crider, a director at legal charity Reprieve and lawyer for the Belhaj and al Saadi families said: “After a decade and a half of siding with the Government, it is welcome that the IPT is beginning to hold our spies to account. But stark problems with the UK’s surveillance system remain: for years the government has written itself a blank cheque to eavesdrop on confidential communications between lawyers and clients – even in cases where the Government itself is in the dock. This is totally unfair and undermines the core premise of our legal system.

“We understand that some, carefully targeted surveillance might be needed. But there is a simple solution to this problem: an automated system that ‘bins’ communications between lawyers who are of no security interest and their clients. We have asked the government to add Reprieve to such a list and they have not replied. The IPT must step in to stop state practices that allow it to rig trials in its favour.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact Donald Campbell at Reprieve: +44 (0) 207 553 8140.