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Law chiefs battle spooks over client privilege

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Bar associations and law societies across the UK line up to wave two fingers at security services and rozzers over Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

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UK legal profession leaders set themselves on a collision course with the country’s spooks yesterday, as they called on the government to legislate to stop the security services and the police from spying on meetings between lawyers and their clients.

Law societies and bar associations in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are pressing ministers to put the brakes on real-life James Bonds and Sir Harry Pearces.

According to law chiefs in a statement issued yesterday:

“… codes to protect legal professional privilege from state surveillance and acquisition of communications data are weak and ineffectual.”

The English Bar Council’s chairman-elect, Alistair MacDonald QC, co-head of New Park Court Chambers in Leeds (he takes over formally in the new year) said: “This declaration is about standing up for a principle that has existed for hundreds of years.

“Communications between lawyers and their clients should remain confidential. If the state eavesdrops on privileged communications to gather intelligence, clients will feel unable to speak openly with their lawyers. In many cases, the effect will be that such cases cannot properly be put and a just result will not be achieved.”

Also squaring up against the boys and girls in the trench coats and wearing those funny wires in their ears was English Law Society president Andrew Caplen, a consultant solicitor with Hampshire high street firm Heppenstalls.

He reiterated the society’s call for a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. “The absence of explicit statutory protection for legal professional privilege remains a matter of serious concern to us,” said Caplen.

The Law Society head boy went on to claim that:

“law enforcement agencies fail to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed. There needs to be explicit protection for legal professional privilege in the act”.

Meanwhile, worryingly, the Bar Council seems unsure of the name of its forthcoming chairman’s chambers. The council’s own website lists it as New Park, but in reality Alistair MacDonald is at New Park Court Chambers