Legal chiefs and academics today demanded new laws to stop police and security services from spying on meetings between lawyers and their clients.

In a declaration to mark European Lawyers Day, the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Faculty of Advocates argue that codes to protect legal professional privilege from state surveillance and acquisition of communications data are weak and ineffectual. 

Andrew Caplen (pictured), president of the Law Society, said: ‘For many years the Society has called for a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The absence of explicit statutory protection for legal professional privilege remains a matter of serious concern to us.’

The declaration follows the Investigatory Powers Tribunal case involving the al-Saadi and Belhadj families which revealed that intelligence agencies are allowed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to spy on conversations between lawyers and clients

Caplen said that the only situation in which private communications between lawyer and client should be capable of being spied on is when they are made in furtherance of a criminal purpose, and the law should reflect that.

Chairman-elect of the Bar Council, Alistair MacDonald QC said: ‘This declaration is about standing up for a principle that has existed for hundreds of years. Communications between lawyers and their clients should remain confidential.

‘If the state eavesdrops on privileged communications to gather intelligence, clients will feel unable to speak openly with their lawyers. In many cases, the effect will be that such cases cannot properly be put and a just result will not be achieved.’

Caplen added: ‘RIPA is not fit for purpose. Law-enforcement agencies fail to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed. There needs to be explicit protection for legal professional privilege in the act.’