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Sun, 24 January 2021

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Protect legal professional privilege from surveillance laws

Bar Council | Bar Council

2 min read Partner content

The Bar Council argues that the principle of legal professional privilege should be protected and retained

Bar Council statement: Protect legal professional privilege from surveillance laws

Alistair MacDonald QC said: “The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, and its predecessor, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, require urgent revision by Parliament.

“Together they have given dubious legal authority to security services to listen in on communications between lawyers and clients. This undermines legal professional privilege, one of the most important safeguards protecting the fairness of a trial and a doctrine that has existed as a constitutional principle for centuries.

“For hundreds of years, it has been an important principle that communications between lawyers and their clients remain confidential. If the state eavesdrops on privileged communications to gather intelligence, clients will feel unable to speak openly with their lawyers.  This has the potential result that defence teams will not even know about perfectly proper defences open to a defendant and will therefore not be able to advance them at trial. 

“It is manifestly in the public interest that only those guilty of offences should be convicted and breach of this privilege carries with it great risks to the integrity and fairness of criminal and civil trials.”

The Bar Council has campaigned for many years to protect the principle of legal professional privilege and has called for legislation to prevent authorities from deliberately targeting communications between lawyers and their clients.

The only situation in which private communications between lawyer and client should be capable of being spied on is when they are made in furtherance of a criminal purpose, and the law should reflect that principle.

Read the most recent article written by Bar Council - Bar Council calls on Ministry of Justice to urgently halt jury trials

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