Two major professional bodies in the legal industry, the Bar Council and the Law Society, have joined forces with organisations that represent those in industries such as journalism and social work to call for reform in areas of law dealing with the concept of surveillance. In particular, the collection of organisations is calling for better protections to be introduced against surveillance by the state.
The organisations have formed a coalition under the name Professionals for Information privacy. As well as the two legal industry bodies, this coalition includes the National union of Journalists and the British Association of Social Workers.
Yesterday, this coalition released a statement in which they called for stricter controls on the monitoring of communications between professionals and their clientele by state bodies. In this statement, the coalition claims that the current laws dealing with issues of surveillance are “complex and confusing and have been laid down in numerous, badly drafted pieces of legislation, codes and guidance.”
The statement claims that there have been too many instances of legislation dealing with data, communications and surveillance issues being hurried through parliament under the banner of emergency legislation. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 is cited as the most recent example of this. Passing so much legislation in this rushed manner has, the coalition says, “undermined parliamentary scrutiny and democratic debate.”
The timing of the statement was pointed, as it coincided with the last day for responses to a major government consultation dealing with this aspect of law. Specifically, the government has been consulting on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and the codes of practice that are contained therein.
In their statement, the coalition says: “we have come together to call for the existing problems to be addressed in the various reviews still underway.” The organisations that make up the coalition are calling for access to the data held by professionals about their clients should benefit from legal protection, and that there should be oversight for this from independent judicial bodies. The coalition feels that “using codes of practice – such as the draft code under RIPA – undermines the rule of law.”
President of the Law Society Andrew Caplen emphasised the importance of clients being able to completely trust legal professionals and deal with them in confidence. If this is not the case, he said, “the rule of law and the administration of justice are undermined,” in a society where the innocent rely on legal advice for protection and businesses rely on legal advice to “[oil] the wheels of commerce.”