30/11/2007

Police Need Independent Eavesdropping Authorisation

The police cannot authorise the secret recording of private conversations between solicitors and their clients in police stations any longer.

Until now, such 'bugging' could be authorised by a deputy chief constable.

Now, a ruling by the Lord Chief Justice said the monitoring of such conversations would be unlawful, unless it is authorised by an independent person.

The issue has been highlighted because a solicitor is awaiting trial on charges of attempting to incite murder and pervert the course of justice.

The allegations, which he denies, are based on conversations he had with clients at Antrim police station and were secretly recorded last year.

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr, made a ruling in the case brought by five applicants who sought assurances from the police and the Prison Service that consultations with their legal advisers or doctors were not being monitored.

He said that in future, conversations between clients and their solicitors or doctors couldn't be monitored unless "it has been shown to the satisfaction of an independent person to be strictly necessary".

"The need for a legal adviser and his client to be secure in the knowledge that what passes between them is and will remain confidential is both obvious and incontestable," said the Lord Chief Justice.

He added: "It appears to me to be self evident that interference with the fundamentally important right arising under Article 8 to consult a legal adviser or a medical adviser privately will be more readily justified where there is a demonstrable measure of independence on the part of the authorising agency."

The status of the 'independent' person or the mechanism through which 'bugging' permission will be sought are as yet unknown.

(BMcC)

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