back to article Lawyer-client privilege no bar to surveillance, say Lords

The state is allowed to bug communication between lawyers and their clients, the House of Lords has said. The UK's highest court ruled that spy law the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) allows lawyers' conversations to be bugged. Lawyers are allowed to withhold the details of communication with their clients from …


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  1. LPF

    Jesus Wept

    So lets get this straight all the police have to do is claim they suspected the client as going to kill a child, and then they can bug when they talk to a lawyer and use it , in a case against them?? WTF!

  2. Whitter

    What's good for the goose...

    One wonders if the RIPA act also covers cabinet meetings then: Iraq invasion anyone?

  3. Michael Fremlins

    Why do we have courts? Why do we have parliament?

    It seems that absolutely none of the rights that we have taken for granted are either safe nor sacred.

    In the name of anti-crime or anti-terror measures, i.e. at the behest of a policeman, privileged conversations can be bugged! Whatever happened to the "fruit from the forbidden tree"? Our MPs are a very sorry lot, intent only on filling their pockets with our money, yet not protecting our rights.

    The message is clear: if one is arrested, speak quietly directly into your lawyer's ear, and ask him to do the same. It won't be long before the "serious" cases where this is used includes minor motoring or littering, if it hasn't already.

    Who in this country actually wants to live like this? Who voted for it?

  4. Anonymous Coward

    think of the children

    "...if it is necessary to obtain information of an impending terrorist attack or to prevent the threatened killing of a child," said Lord Carswell. OF A CHILD. Adults really are second-class citizens these days aren't they?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    So where can solicitors speak to clients?

    So will the plod now have to bail all suspects so they can meet with there solicitors at there solicitors offices to avoid being bugged?

    Or escort them there at great cost and then back again?

    I guess a simple FOI request asking each force which rooms have had covert recording equipment installed would be a start.

    Black helicopters, buy one get one free!

  6. Dan
    Thumb Down


    Ok, this is scary stuff, but I struggle to grasp where the borders are. If lawyer/client and doctor/patient communication is "ordinarily protected by legal professional priviledge", where does that protection stop and RIPA-justified interception start?

  7. General A. Annoying

    let me get this straight...

    Her Wackiness has (very possibly) been acting illegaly?

    Not that I'm expecting *anything* to be done about it.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Say again?

    "It seems to me unlikely that the possibility of RIPA applying to privileged consultations could have passed unnoticed [in Parliament]."

    No, that's quite likely. In fact, the gubmint could have been counting on the stupidity of Parliament to create a hole big enough to drive a police state through. There's not a lot of intelligence on the benches these days...

  9. Sean Groarke
    Black Helicopters

    Slippery slope...

    The final decision went the government's way, which may or may not be of concern depending upon one's views. Much more worrying, though, is as two of the Lords pointed out, that the government flagrantly ignored the lower court's decision and carried on regardless for a year or so. It's as if the governement's took the view that a court's ruling is merely advisory and can be ignored when it is not convenient.

    *That* is the much more significant outcome of this situation - a governement which treats the courts as a minor irritation that can be brushed aside and ignored. That is a very very slippery slope indeed.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    But Still Illegal Spying?

    Which is the bigger story here? That lawyer-client privilege isn't absolute? Or that the government chose to continue doing something ruled illegal?

    This government really does seem to think it's above the law.

    Am I right in guessing that the "Secretary of State" is Jacqui Smith?

    "Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers said that the court "made a finding of law against the Secretary of State. She chose not to appeal against that finding. In those circumstances it was not open to her to consider as a matter of policy whether to "take the steps necessary to remedy the concern identified by the Divisional Court"..."

    Oh wow! Does she really think government policy overrides law?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Death of the justics system

    This is the sort of thing we used to read about third world governments in the 70s and 80s. So it looks like the UK has been relegated to the third division!

  12. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Before the Moral Brigade ride in on their hobbyhorses....

    .....they may want to consider that Mr Sandhu, whilst "advising" his client regarding the murder of 25-year-old Jameson Lockhart - gunned down as he sat in a lorry on the lower Newtownards Road in Belfast in July in what is thought to be part of a Loyalist fued - attempted to frustrate the murder enquiry by instructing that a key suspect be "taken offside" before police had a chance to question him. Solicitors are expected to uphold the law, not subvert it, so this is much more serious than if it was being said by the average Joe on the street.

    I'm not expecting too much grumbling from the Indymedia set, though, seeing as this case relates to fueding between Loyalist groups, and they only get excited by defending real "freedom fighters" like Danny McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell

  13. Edward Miles


    "or to prevent the threatened killing of a child,"


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Which came first Surveillance or right to surveil?

    So how many client-lawyer conversations did they monitor before they found one that had a good change of surviving a challenge? I bet they did many.

    ""There may be other situations where it would be lawful to monitor privileged consultations, for example, if it is necessary to obtain information of an impending terrorist attack or to prevent the threatened killing of a child,""

    I'm guessing they did mass surveillance, then found one that might pass Lord Carswell test, then prosecuted that discussion (incitement? i.e. speech?) and now he's legalized it, all client lawyer discussions will be monitored. All MP-constituent discussions etc.

    I don't think Lord Carswell really thought that one through. He's effectively green lighting, for example, monitoring of all MPs. That is just another type of priviledge discussion which is not written into RIPA.

    So the senior police will monitor the communications between MPs till they find one who says something likely to survive incitement prosecution, then they'll prosecute that. i.e. they're subjecting the whole legal system right up to Parliament to police surveillance.

  15. Jonathan


    I didnt know it had got this bad. Not only are the police racist and corrupt, the Lords accept bribes from any tom dick and harry and do their utmost to protect their own privacy and cushy salaries while selling the rest of us down the river, but now once priviliged communications are no longer privileged?

    I am not a lawyer, or a judge, and I dont have the money for bribes, but I would think that if, since lawyer/client privilege is a law, and RIPA is also a law, one must contain provisions for the other to avoid confusion. And if it contains no such provision, we should assume that RIPA does not apply to lawyer/client privilege. Am I being crazy here?

    But I see the point of all this actually. Its so that the police can use a Phorm system to sell our communications (and therefore crimes) to the House of Lords, so that they can advertise bribes to us.

  16. Ash

    "... impending killing of a child."

    Hell, why not just write type out the phrase "You're all criminals. We own you. Do as we say or we'll ruin your life." and instead of presenting it to the Lords, just sign it with the picture of a crying child with a terrorist standing over it.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It Maybe Legal, But is it Right?

    I must admit I don't know. But it's significance is that another barrier to ubiquitous surveillance that's been removed. To be honest I doubt there's little anyone can do to derail the panopticon that will soon engulf the whole of British society. The Information Commissioner may make noises & critical report after critical report be published & protest groups be established, but they mean little. The governing authorities & law enforcement in this country are utterly determined to ratchet up the amount of spying that is done on the ordinary citizen. I think there will certainly come a day when people will have to be careful what internet sites they visit & what they type in their e-mails if they don't want a knock on the door. Paranoid? Well just having a house that is heated inefficiently is enough for Breckland District Council in Norfolk to send someone to nag you about it. They're using a plane with thermal imaging equipment to spot 'offenders. And if using too much heat is a 'crime'....

  18. David Hicks

    Hooray for the British authorities!

    Bringing you a little less freedom every day!

    Just what we all wanted.

  19. night troll

    That woman again!

    So, wacky jac was found to have acted illegally (again). She says f*** em and continues to act illegally until the law is found in her favor, so no doubt she will now say she was right all along and it does not matter that her actions up to that point were not legal.

    That woman should never been allowed to take a breath when she was born. I blame the parents, that's one shag that should have been with a condom.

  20. Anonymous Coward


    ... so they've just removed one of the last major points about the whole "fair trial" thing?

    Much as it sounds like the guy who was caught probably should have been, you'd have hoped that the police could have done more proper police work rather than waiting for him to tell his lawyer what happenned.

    And given that no-one else really knew that this was now allowed, what are the chances they tapped that phone without actually knowing they had permission?

  21. Chris


    So they're not allowed to know what you're saying to your lawyer, unless they go to the trouble of bugging you?

    Erm, that seems a bit odd... but who said the law had to make sense eh? =)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Well done m'lud, you managed to get in a shout for both "saving us from terrorism" AND "won't somebody think of the children"


  23. Ash

    @Michael Fremlins

    How very poignant.

    "... the rights that we have taken for granted."

    More fool us.

  24. Sir Runcible Spoon

    Does this mean that..

    every little tin-pot council who has made free with the RIPA so far can now eavesdrop on lawyers and doctors with impunity?

    Here's an idea that might fly :- Perhaps the DSS could monitor the local GPs for benefit fraud.

    I no longer care. The battle is lost, the government now owns 'the people' (unless the people suddenly find a backbone). I'm off.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    big surprise

    /of course/ the HO will have carried on regardless. The current crop of politicos (and I don't mean just the Govt) all think they're above or outside the law. Witness their attempts to hide their personal details and business doings even while passing laws compelling everyone elses' to be stored in huge databases.

    As for the RIPA, the law lords are being naive if they think Parliament realised this issue existed. There was virtually no proper debate about the act in the first place, it was rushed through on a terrorism-scare railroad.

    And its even naiver to assume that it will only be used 'appropriatelty' - you could be nicked for drink driving and they'd be getting a waiver to listen in because "we had an anonymous tipoff that the accused was a terrorist / had illegal smut / insulted the Home Sec / looked at me in a funny way, milud".

  26. Anonymous Coward

    "regrettable" is understatement of the year so far

    How about "Criminal contempt of court for which the home secretary should be dragged before the court in irons and sent immediately to jail"? Like, oh, i dunno, any ordinary criminal who disregards a court order?

  27. Frumious Bandersnatch


    So let me see if I've got this right. A new law is enacted which turns out, in one interpretation, to overturn long-standing protections. Since the law was not written in a way that explicitly written in such a way to exclude that interpretation, then that interpretation must have been valid and intended.

    Taking this interpretation to its logical conclusions, it would seem that *any* badly written law (and there are dozens of recent instances, with the Coroners and Justice Bill coming immediately to mind) can, if enacted, overturn fundamental rights which citizens (ok, subjects) had heretofore considered sacrosanct.

    Whatever happened to the idea that if a bill is intended to change the law in some area that it should explicitly spell out what its areas of competence are, and explicitly state how and where it changes existing laws? Has the UK judiciary gone completely stark raving bonkers?

  28. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down


    Lord Carswell said "It seems to me unlikely that the possibility of RIPA applying to privileged consultations could have passed unnoticed [in Parliament]. On the contrary, it is an obvious application of the Act, yet no provision was put in to exclude them."

    Why does this seem unlikely?

    Why is it an obvious application of the act?

    Whilst concerns were raised about much of the act, just because nobody entertained the thought that "hang on, perhaps someone could bug lawyers talking to client" (or, perhaps, dismissed it thinking "no, that would be silly, nobody would be as stupid to try to use this law to do that) doesn't mean that, ipso facto, it should be allowed.

    Oddly enough, this is the same Lord Carswell who said that the police should be allowed to build the largest DNA and fingerprint database possible...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Taken offside

    " .....they may want to consider that Mr Sandhu, whilst "advising" his client regarding the murder of 25-year-old Jameson Lockhart - gunned down as he sat in a lorry on the lower Newtownards Road in Belfast in July in what is thought to be part of a Loyalist fued -"

    Mr Sandhu did not gun down anyone, that sentence you constructed juxtaposed two things to make them appear connected.

    " attempted to frustrate the murder enquiry by instructing that a key suspect be "taken offside" before police had a chance to question him. "

    What does "taken offside" mean?

    Why were the police monitoring his privileged discussion? How many other discussions between solicitors and prisoners, did they monitor before they got a comment they could take action on?

    How many other privileged conversations do they monitor but have not yet taken action on? Does these conversations include MPs? Do they include MPs in Parliament talking to other MPs? Or MPs talking to constituents?

    What about these people I read about last night, like Q, who are on a secret black list and it is a crime to deal with them, but they are never prosecuted for anything and never charged with anything, yet they can't even buy clothes without permission? If an MP talks to one of them, is that conversation monitored?

    How bad is it in the UK?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wake up and smell the........

    .......shit. The lawyer's client is a UK citizen and therefore,by definition, he has no right to privacy whatsoever. Unless you belong to one of the privileged elites you are nothing more than a token consumer to be exploited at the whim of government sponsored rip-off businesses and financiers.

    Privacy is reserved for the big players who flaunt their 'Commercially sensitive' or 'National security' cards contemptuously in your face while pissing on your shoes. In the New Labour version of Monopoly only the bad guys get 'Do not go to jail.' and 'Pass Go and collect £17 million' cards.

    Next year we will have the opportunity to exercise one of our few remaining rights, so please feel free to spread a little happiness in this sorry nation by voting for anyone other than this cretinous bunch of morons.

  31. General A. Annoying

    @How bad is it in the UK?

    REALLY fucking bad!

    And getting rapidly worse.

    As for "What does "taken offside" mean?"


    WTF do you think he meant?

    The only connections with sport would involve either a baseball bat (or two, or three), or perhaps a starting pistol (or something *very* similar).

    Use your imagination.

  32. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    @Matt Bryant

    "Solicitors are expected to uphold the law, not subvert it, "

    Right, so the Police should eavesdrop on every discussion between a Solicitor and their Client *just in case* the Solicitor might be attempting to subvert the law...

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @@How bad is it in the UK?

    Only reference I know to "offside" has to do with a silly game where overpaid boys run around a football pitch leaping to the ground.

    Or a terribly clunky way to say someone wasn't on your side anymore "he's offside man" or to take him off your team "take him offside." But that's pretty clunky.

    Is it like going outside leg stump? Or more like LBW?

  34. DR

    nothing to see here

    What you though was confidential isn't.

    government is told that something is unlawful but continues to do it anyway...

    same shit different day...

  35. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: @Taken offside and RE: @Matt Bryant

    RE: @Taken offside

    Use a little imagination, do you think they're going to offer him an icecream? Unfortunately, the Loyalist gangs involved are little more than thugs dressing themselves up as "civil defenders", they regularly engage in such lovely practices as extortion, protection rackets, drug-dealing, murder, intimidatuion of witnesses and the like. I suspect the unfortunate witness was going to get an offer he couldn't refuse, probably along the lines of "Keep schtum or your house will get burnt down - with you in it!"

    RE: @Matt Bryant

    I'm guessing that Mr Sandhu was the object of an investigation already, hence the recording. As to it being "bugging", there are tales of an old copper's trick of simply leaving the recording equipment in the room on "by accident, m'Lud" (in the UK, all Police interrogation rooms have recording kit openly displayed, it's there to protect against illegal interrogation techniques, and it is usually these rooms used by lawyers when meeting their clients if they are already in Police custody). But I suspect he was already under investigation and there was a warrant or at least official permission, seeing as otherwise it would not be admitted to, they would simply have blackmailed Mr Sandhu into becoming an unofficial Police grass. Maybe such an offer was made and Mr Sandhu was simply more scared of his clients than losing his reputation and livelihood. In this case, it seems someone decided to prosecute Mr Sandhu, which implies it was an approved operation. Can't say I'm upset, he sounds like as bad scum as the clients he represents.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    @Graham Marsden

    Lord Carswell said "It seems to me unlikely that the possibility of RIPA applying to privileged consultations could have passed unnoticed [in Parliament]. On the contrary, it is an obvious application of the Act, yet no provision was put in to exclude them."

    Why does this seem unlikely?

    Exactly. But of course, this would assume that anyone in Parliament had some base level of competance and would have given a moments thought to what they were doing rather than being driven though the gate like a bunch of sheeple.

    aw crap...

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    It may be legal to bug your conversation with your lawyer, but is it legal to use what you hear as evidence in a trial? If the privileged communication is required in order to ensure a fair trail, then surely breaching that privilege must lead to an unfair trial?

    Can there be any other conclusion?

    In that case, the conviction should be quashed.

  38. blue

    Still some areas where Confidentiality is Guaranteed:

    Just say 'State Security' or 'Commercially Sensitive'.

    Some animals are more equal.

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