Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Law Society

  We are writing to you in the light of the announcement that the Committee will be considering the implications of the Rose Report dealing with surveillance issues at HM Woodhill prison as part of your Surveillance Society Inquiry.

  The Government inquiry by Sir Christopher Rose will deal with the issue of the bugging of MPs. As you know, since the announcement of this inquiry there have been allegations of systematic bugging of solicitors and their clients at Woodhill. These latter allegations would appear to be outside the terms of reference of Sir Christopher's inquiry as announced by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt. Hon Jack Straw MP, in the House on 4 February. They are, in our view, equally serious.

  The President of the Law Society, Andrew Holroyd, has now written to Jack Straw (with copies to the Home Secretary and the Attorney General) to explain that if these allegations prove to be true the practice is completely unacceptable and an affront to the rule of law. We have asked for assurance that such monitoring has not taken place or that if it has, it has now ceased. Should it have occurred, we have asked for information about its prevalence.

  We have also raised a wider issue that we believe will be of concern to the Committee in its inquiry into the Surveillance Society—the unsatisfactory nature of the current legislative framework. Our concern is not only the absence of explicit statutory safeguards for legal professional privilege under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 but the overall complexity of the Act and its interaction with other legislation, including the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. This latter point was the subject of our Memorandum of Evidence to the Privy Council in 2003. As well as enlarging the scope for deliberate abuse it may well be that such complexity creates operational difficulties and could lead to genuine but serious mistakes. The consequences of deliberate abuse or serious mistake can be severe. In 2005 for example, the Court of Appeal overturned a conviction for murder on the grounds that bugging privileged conversations between a solicitor and their client undermined the rule of law.

  Our view is that a confused and complex legislative framework for surveillance, along with equally complex and overlapping oversight arrangements, are significant and dangerous components of a Surveillance Society. Clear laws and the right to unmonitored and privileged legal advice are fundamental to any free society.

20 February 2008

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