GCHQ may be liable to countless legal challenges as a result of a 96 page document (see below) that was released to lawyers confirming how the UK mass surveillance agency has been monitoring the correspondence, email, phone calls and other communications between lawyers and their clients for years. This is a highly significant development that impacts upon due legal process and natural justice and the consequences are enormous with the UK justice in tatters.
The document was released as a result of a claim by two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami Al Saadi and their families after they were subjected to rendition by US forces and, in co-operation with MI6, were tortured by agents of the Gaddafi regime. (For more on this, click here.)
Cori Crider from Reprieve commented: “This raises troubling implications for the whole British justice system. In how many cases has the government eavesdropped to give itself an unfair advantage in court?”
The release of the document paves the way for numerous challenges in the UK courts or the European courts in relation to prosecutions going back years. GCHQ is an arm of Government and as most prosecutions are handled by the Crown Prosecution Service, which is another arm of Government, then GCHQ’s interference can only be regarded as collusion. One MP, David Davies, believes that the revelations could lead to past convictions being quashed.
Dinah Rose QC added, “This…is the tip of the iceberg. It raises questions about a large number cases and about the integrity of judgements reached by courts in civil and criminal cases.”
There are other implications that in time will need to be considered. For example, GCHQ’s mass monitoring also provides the agency with direct access to medical records, education records and other, similar confidential information. Professional associations representing health professionals, teachers, social workers, etc, could consider taking legal action if the integrity of the information they held or held on their behalf had been compromised.
Similar action may also be considered where a GCHQ partner (e.g. ASIO in Australia) has indulged in similar unethical practices.
Meanwhile, there are many unanswered questions:
1. How many years has this interference in the legal process by GCHQ been going on for?
2. What did GCHQ do with the information it collected as a result of this snooping?
3. Did GCHQ pass on this information to other agencies – if so, which ones and precisely what information?
4. Is this practice still in force?