New documents indicate further MI6 spying on lawyers’ communications

January 14, 2015

Image of Abdul-hakim Belhaj

Previously-secret guidance which MI6 has been forced to publish following legal action by charity Reprieve acknowledges that the agency may have intercepted communications relating to criminal investigations and legal cases brought against it.

The revelation comes as MI6, together with other parts of the British Government, faces an ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation and a civil case over its part in kidnapping and “rendering” two families – including a pregnant women and four young children – to Gaddafi’s prisons in 2004.

The guidance, published in response to a case brought in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) by Reprieve for the Belhaj and al-Saadi families , admits that:

In the course of conducting interception in pursuit of its functions it is possible that SIS [MI6] will intercept LPP communications in connection with litigation, other legal proceedings (such as inquiries or inquests) or criminal investigations in which SIS or HMG is a party to or has an interest in (all such material will be referred to as ‘other party LPP material’).

Reprieve is concerned that the guidance dates only to December 2014 – and thus presumably was developed in response to Reprieve’s litigation – and that, as a result, MI6 may already have been given an unfair advantage in the legal cases and police investigations concerning its activities. It appears the fresh guidance is intended to improve on the previous policies, which Reprieve had said were woefully inadequate and created a real risk of prejudice to ongoing torture proceedings.

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and lawyer for the Belhaj family said: “MI6’s brand-new eavesdropping policy still has serious problems – it still envisages that MI6 will snoop on private legal calls even in cases where it is being sued for torture. But these issues are nothing compared to the double-decker sized loopholes that were in place when Mr Belhaj and his wife were preparing their legal claims. This last-minute effort by MI6 to clean up their act shows Reprieve was right to fear that our private calls with torture victims, and possibly with the police in Operation Lydd, were compromised.  There can be no justification for spying on our privileged calls in this family’s torture claim. If spying took place, and information leaked, the government must come clean about it immediately so we can begin to set our torture trial back on a fair footing.”