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Iran Press TV

UK spy agencies snooping on lawyers: Official documents

Iran Press TV

Fri Nov 7, 2014 5:32AM GMT

Official documents reveal that British spy agencies have been routinely intercepting legally-protected communications between lawyers and their clients.

On Thursday, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, an independent judicial body in the UK, disclosed the unlawful practice based on internal documents of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6).

According to the tribunal, guidelines by the GCHQ said its staff "may in principle target the communications of lawyers," while an MI5 document said legally privileged material could "in principle" be used "just like any other item of intelligence."

The court has been informed that the obtained data may have even been unlawfully exploited by spy agencies in court cases in which the intelligence agencies were involved.

According to the documents, in one case, MI5 said legally privileged information had been wrongly handed over to lawyers defending the security agencies, where "the potential for tainting" was identified.

Under British law, communications between lawyers and their clients have a special protected status.

The tribunal's revelations have sparked fury among UK human rights activists, who say the spying agencies' practice had "troubling implications for the whole British justice system."

Rachel Logan, a legal adviser at rights group Amnesty International, slammed the breaches as a systematic invasion by state agents of a right recognized by the British common law.

"This clearly violates an age-old principle of English law set down in the 16th century — that the correspondence between a person and their lawyer is confidential," said Logan, adding that spying on lawyers gives the UK government an "unfair advantage akin to playing poker in a hall of mirrors."

Both the GCHQ and the Home Office refused to comment on the revelations, with a government spokesman saying, "We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings."


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