Accessibility Links

Legal profession 'needs protection from surveillance'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 12/12/14

Top legal bodies have joined forces to call for anti-snooping laws to protect lawyers and their clients. The issue of state surveillance has been a hot topic in recent years, particularly in light of the revelations made by former CIA operative Edward Snowden.

In the latest contribution to the debate, the Law Society and the Bar Council have joined others in the profession across Europe in making a declaration calling for new legislation to protect lawyers and their clients from being spied on by state organisations such as the police.

The two organisations joined the Faculty of Advocates to argue that the existing codes of protection and professional privilege are not sufficient in the current climate.

Consequently, they have issued the European Lawyers Day Declaration 2014. It notes that lawyer-client confidentiality is recognised by the European Court of Justice as something that  "contributes towards the maintenance of the rule of law", and as such should get "special protection by the state".

The declaration will doubtless throw down the gauntlet to decision makers, not least in the UK where the political parties will be starting to draft their manifestos.

Discussing the issue, chairman-elect of the Bar Council Alistair MacDonald QC said: "This declaration is about standing up for a principle that has existed for hundreds of years. Communications between lawyers and their clients should remain confidential. If the state eavesdrops on privileged communications to gather intelligence, clients will feel unable to speak openly with their lawyers."

The result of this will be that cases cannot be put clearly and fair outcomes will not be possible, he added.

Concern has arisen over a couple of tribunal cases, which revealed that security services in the UK are still allowed to carry out unfettered surveillance on conversations between lawyers and clients under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Ripa) Act 2000. This is based on a House of Lords ruling on the use of Ripa in 2009 that permitted such activities.

Mr MacDonald said protections created by the government in the wake of this ruling are clearly inadequate, and only primary legislation will protect legal confidentiality.