Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Rushed timetable for 'Snoopers' Charter' a disgrace, say lawyers

Rushed timetable for 'Snoopers' Charter' a disgrace, say lawyers


Draft Bill fails to protect confidential sources or legal professional privilege

Lawyers and journalists have criticised the timetable for the government's 'Snoopers' Charter' and warned parliamentarians against rubber-stamping the controversial law.

The Law Society, Bar Council, and National Union of Journalists (NUJ) have launched their 'Speak in Safety' campaign, arguing that the Investigatory Powers Bill fails to protect confidential sources, whistleblowers, or legal professional privilege (LPP).

Ahead of the campaign's launch event, Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ's general secretary, said: 'The draft law must be changed to guarantee press freedom and enable journalistic sources and whistleblowers to speak in safety.'

Meanwhile, Jonathan Smithers, the president of the Law Society, said: 'The law must guarantee citizens safe and secure channels of communication when they seek advice from their lawyers.

'Anything which results in a breach of this most fundamental of human rights is a violation of the rule of law.'

Speaking to a packed committee room in Westminster last night, the chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, told MPs and peers that they had a 'rare and important opportunity' to protect a person's constitutional right to consult a lawyer in confidence.

'One of the essential rights in a democracy is that of a citizen to consult with a lawyer,' said Doerries.

'Clients who cannot be sure that conversations with their legal representative are held in confidence often fail to communicate information which is vital to their case. . . This can compromise a defendant's right to a fair hearing.'

The chairman of the Bar stated that where privileged material is passed to government lawyers, who are defending a claim against the state or prosecuting an individual, 'the integrity of a trial is lost and the right of an individual to fair process is wholly undermined'.

Defending LPP as a right of the client, rather than a right of the lawyer, Doerries said that a failure to protect the principle amounted to a 'significant derogation of a fundamental constitutional right which is part of the foundation of the rule of law'.

'Detailed and focused scrutiny of the Bill is now required,' added the silk. 'The Bar Council, the Law Society, and NUJ are working together to protect some of the most fundamental constitutional rights enjoyed by the citizens of this country.'

The chair of the event, Joanna Cherry QC MP, said the timetable for the Bill was 'a disgrace'.

Her view was reinforced by Doerries, who warned that this would not be the first time surveillance laws, with constitutionally significant details at their heart, have been 'rushed' through parliament.

The Investigatory Powers Bill Committee will today debate amendments tabled by the Labour party and the SNP aimed at protecting LPP.

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