Lawyers have teamed up with journalists to condemn the so-called snooper’s charter as MPs began discussing the Investigatory Powers bill in parliament this week.
The bill, which will govern all of the powers available to law enforcement, the security and intelligence agencies and the armed forces to acquire communications from the public through means such as accessing web browsing histories and phone hacking, has reached committee stages this week.
There are 69 pages of amendments to the bill, including proposals backed by the Law Society and the Bar Council concerning legal privilege.
Among the concerns, raised on Monday (April 11) in a collaborative campaign with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), legal industry representatives are seeking an amendment to set the right threshold for the interception of lawyer client communications.
Opening the discussion for the ‘Speak in Safety’ event, Bar Council chair Chantal-Aimée Doerries said: ‘Our proposed amendments make clear the distinction between what is and what is not privileged, and therefore what can and cannot be targeted by surveillance.
She added: ‘Failure to protect that privilege amounts to a significant derogation of a fundamental constitutional right which is part of the foundation of the rule of law.’
Proposed amendments by the Law Society and Bar Council include a new clause which provides clarity over whether information is held for a criminal purpose, in which case it is not privileged and is accessible to the authorities or alternatively whether information is not deemed to be held for a criminal purpose and is therefore privileged.
Doerries also suggested the amendment of ‘presumptively subject to legal privilege’, which would ensure clauses contained a presumption that legal communications are privileged and should only be targeted if there are proper grounds for believing they have lost their privilege – such as criminal purpose.
At this stage it is unlikely that any amendments will be pushed to a vote until the bill reaches report stage in May. And with the completion of the bill scheduled for the end of the year, co-ordination of scrutiny and amendments to the bill is increasingly difficult.
However, Bird & Bird IT and intellectual property partner Graham Smith argues there will be a significant amount of scrutiny on the bill during committee stages due to its far reaching impact.
He said: ‘The committee stage has started and that is the detailed line by line scrutiny of the bill, clause by clause, line by line. There is obviously time pressure on the committee. If amendments are in front of the committee they will be taken seriously. It is very easy to think of the bill as a very specialist technology and communications issue or a civil liberties issue but I do think it has the potential to reach into businesses more generally.’