Barristers have warned that ‘clumsily drafted’ data protection laws due to be voted on this month could hand ‘big brother powers’ to data watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) by granting it access to privileged material without client consent.

Andrew Walker

Andrew Walker QC

Bar chair Andrew Walker QC said that the Data Protection Bill will make it more difficult for lawyers to advise and defend their clients. The Data Protection Bill, which aims to mirror the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in UK law, reaches its report stage in the House of Commons on Wednesday.  The GDPR takes direct effect in member states on 25 May.

Walker said: ‘There is nothing in the bill to prevent the ICO from both obtaining legally privileged material and then disclosing it to a third party for use in any sort of legal proceedings. That would run a coach and horses through the confidential nature of clients’ communications with their lawyers.’  

He added: ‘A lack of proper scrutiny means that it will impose onerous and entirely unnecessary new obligations on lawyers, risk the disruption of legal proceedings, and make it more difficult for lawyers to use information provided by their clients to advise and defend them.'

The council said it had pressed for amendments to the bill at every stage but that the government had not been prepared to contemplate any changes.

‘Whilst we grasp fully the importance of implementing the GDPR, a bill of this magnitude and complexity deserves proper scrutiny by parliament,’ Walker added.