Summary: UK government forced to release policies on surveillance of lawyers

7th November 2014: The UK government has been forced to release secret policies showing GCHQ and MI5 have for years advised staff that they may “target the communications of lawyers,” and use legally privileged material “just like any other item of intelligence.”

The disclosure comes in response to a case brought in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) by the al Saadi and Belhadj families, who were subjected to rendition and torture in a joint CIA-MI6 operation in 2004. Both families – assisted by SRT grantee Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day – have brought litigation about the kidnappings. The families allege that, by intercepting their privileged communications with Reprieve and Leigh Day, the government has infringed their right to a fair trial.

The government documents show that there is a real risk that private lawyer-client material intercepted by the agencies was allowed to “taint” the case brought in the High Court against the government by the victims of the 2004 rendition operation, which included four children aged 12 and under and a pregnant woman among its victims. Although there is no indication that the documents released last week contain any material that is a risk to national security, the government had previously claimed three times that they could not disclose them on this basis.

Richard Stein of Leigh Day said, “After many months’ resistance, the security services have now been forced to disclose the policies which they claim are in place to protect the confidential communications between lawyers and their clients. We can see why they were so reluctant to disclose them. They highlight how the security services instruct their staff to flout these important principles in a cavalier way. We hope the Tribunal will tell the government in no uncertain terms that this conduct is completely unacceptable.”

Full press release from Reprieve:

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