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Government caught red-handed - regime for spying on legal correspondence unlawful

“This is the second time in as many weeks that government spies have been rumbled breaking the law.”

Responding to the government’s unprecedented admission today that its current policies and procedures for the handling of legally privileged material are unlawful, Amnesty International said the government had been caught red-handed.

The government’s concession was made this afternoon in an ongoing legal claim in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal against the government brought by the Libyan man Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Amnesty International. The claimants had argued that the regime for the intercepting, obtaining, analysis and use of legally privileged material was not prescribed by law. This has now been accepted by the Government.

The historic concession comes within weeks of a ruling, on Friday 6 February at the same court when Amnesty International and others won another historic victory when the same Tribunal rules that the USA and the UK’s intelligence sharing of communications surveillance had previously violated human rights law.

Today’s concession means that all the actions of the security services in obtaining and using legally privileged material are illegal and have been for at least the last 5 years.

Amnesty UK’s legal programme director Rachel Logan said:

“We are talking about nothing less than the violation of a fundamental principle of the rule of law - that communications between a lawyer and their client must be confidential.

“The government has been caught red-handed. The security agencies have been illegally intercepting privileged material and are continuing to do so - this could mean they’ve been spying on the very people challenging them in court.

“This is the second time in as many weeks that government spies have been rumbled breaking the law.”

Amnesty said that although the government has attempted to water down its concession by suggesting that the only problem is that ‘some safeguards have not been made public’ and that the problem concerns only some aspects of human rights law, in fact, the entire way in which legally privileged material is dealt with is illegal because it is contrary to basic rules of the common law.

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