10:42 am - Thursday November 5, 2015

Intelligence agencies spying on lawyers in sensitive security cases

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The intelligence services have routinely been intercepting legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients in sensitive security cases, according to internal MI5, MI6 and GCHQ documents.

The information obtained may even have been exploited unlawfully and used by the agencies in the fighting of court cases in which they themselves are involved, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) has been told, resulting in miscarriages of justice.

Exchanges between lawyers and their clients enjoy a special protected status under the law.

The Conservative MP David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, said past practice was to delete such material immediately if it was ever picked up. Amnesty International said the government was gaining “an unfair advantage akin to playing poker in a hall of mirrors”.

Their comments come after 28 extracts of internal intelligence policies showing how legally privileged material is handled by security officials were released to lawyers pursuing a claim through the IPT. The tribunal considers complaints against MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

The claim has been brought by two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami Al Saadi, and their families after they were abducted in a joint MI6-CIA operation and sent back to be tortured by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2004.

Belhaj has been given permission to sue the government for his mistreatment. Following revelations by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Belhaj’s lawyers feared their communications with their client could have been compromised by GCHQ’s mass surveillance of telephone and online communications.

Responses given by lawyers for the government at the IPT imply that there has already been one unidentified case, handled by MI5, where “the potential for tainting was identified” – suggesting that lawyers pursing litigation may wrongfully have benefited from intercepts.

Until Thursday’s hearing, government lawyers had argued that releasing the internal intelligence agency guidance would compromise national security.

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