Recording meetings between a man convicted of terrorist offences and his lawyers was justified, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has said in a ruling that could have far-reaching implications for the confidentiality of lawyer-client relationships.
The Strasbourg ruling, in Öcalan v Turkey, a case concerning militant leader Abdullah Öcalan, was based on the reasoning that national authorities should be able to impose ‘lawful restrictions’ on people charged with terrorist activities when such restrictions are ‘strictly necessary to protect society against violence’.
However the Law Society’s human rights committee is concerned that, if left unchallenged, the decision could undermine legal professional privilege in countries subject to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UN Basic Principles on the Rules for Lawyers compel governments to recognise the confidentiality of lawyer-client communications.
Professor Sara Chandler, chair of the committee, said: 'As it stands, the ECtHR decision allows legal professional privilege to be ignored in circumstances where the state expresses the view that confidentiality may lead to the commission of violent crimes.
'This stance is open to misuse by governments and, while the protection of society from violence must be paramount, respect for privileged communications between lawyers and their clients is essential except in the most extreme circumstances.
‘This exception by the ECtHR to allow a government to record a lawyer-client meeting unfairly identifies the lawyer with the client’s activities, and, to an extent, undermines the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
‘We are hopeful that this decision will be reviewed by the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR so that more detailed consideration is given to the issue of when, if ever, legal professional privilege can be compromised.'