Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lawyers in a spin over 'routine' bugging claims

The legal profession throughout the UK has descended into frenzy over claims that Police routinely eavesdrop on interviews and meetings between lawyers & clients in Police stations, prisons etc ...

Given the level of surveillance in the UK these days, where just about everything is filmed, recorded, watched at some stage, the revelations do not strike a great surprise among many.

Now the wait is on for some action from the legal profession itself, which surely would be that of a lawyer or group of lawyers taking the Government to court over actual evidence of bugging ...

The Sunday Herald reports :

Top Scottish lawyers: we’re 'all being bugged'

By John Bynorth

Legal professionals say prisons, police stations and mobile phones are all targets for unapproved eavesdropping

SENIOR HUMAN rights lawyers and a leading QC claim that phone tapping of solicitors' legally-protected conversations with clients in jail is commonplace in Scotland.

The legal figures have told the Sunday Herald that police and customs are eavesdropping phone and face-to-face conversations with criminals in prisons and elsewhere, including police stations, on a regular basis UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw has launched an inquiry into allegations that Labour MP Sadiq Khan's conversations with a terrorist suspect who was a constituent were monitored in Woodhill Prison, Bedford.

It was claimed yesterday the practice was widespread and could lead to the release of violent offenders if it was proved that monitoring of conversations had taken place, sanctioned by Westminster ministers.

A whistleblower is alleged to have detailed knowledge'' of the Bedford sting and claimed prisoners, including Soham murderer Ian Huntley, had been targeted along with other terrorist suspects.

Despite a statement from the Justice Ministry that covert listening operations were a matter for the police in line with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, leading QC Gareth Peirce and shadow home secretary David Davis said the fresh allegations merited another inquiry.

Gerry Considine, president of the Glasgow Bar Association, said the Crown Office and the Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency should give evidence to any such inquiry as he claimed the practice has been taking place for years''.

He said: I am aware of conversations, where I'm sure that I have been bugged, not just by the police, but also Customs and Excise where we are dealing with people accused of major drugs importations."

Leading advocate Paul McBride, QC, said: For a number of years now, many counsel and solicitors dealing with high profile or sensitive cases, have been suspicious that their private consultations in prison are being listened into by others illegally and that their mobile phones are also the subject of eavesdropping.

If this practice is in existence, it should be stopped immediately, as there is a perfectly legal way in which the police can apply to the courts or seek authorisation from the First Minister for phone tapping to take place."

John Scott, a human rights lawyer, said that some solicitors do not meet at certain police stations, including St Leonards in Edinburgh, for fear their conversations can be eavesdropped.

It wouldn't be terribly hard to listen in on the private interview area and many solicitors don't attempt to speak to their clients there," he said. In prisons, you are directed to rooms for meetings with clients and it wouldn't be impossible to bug those.'' Defence lawyer Aamer Anwar said: "I wasn't shocked that criminal lawyers are being bugged and I have been conscious this has been going on for a number of years, particularly in terrorism cases.

"If this happened in the US, there would be uproar, but it seems the UK government doesn't give a damn."

One Scottish-based lawyer was convinced his phone conversations with a client accused of dealing in drugs from Pakistan were being monitored after an English police force called him in for interview and made clear details that could only have come from tapped calls.

Sources close to First Minister Alex Salmond confirmed that he had not authorised phone tapping of criminal lawyers during interviews with their clients.

The Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency was not available to comment on the issue. Lothian and Borders Police could not comment on the allegations surrounding St Leonards police station.

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