The Netherlands government has been forced to stop intercepting communications between lawyers and their clients following a legal action by a human rights law firm.
Amsterdam-based Prakken d’Oliveira filed a summary injunction against the state after it received privileged information that communications with a client were being tapped ‘at least indirectly’, Michiel Pestman, a criminal and terrorism specialist at the firm said.
It was joined in the action by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe.
Earlier this month, the District Court of The Hague ruled in ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2015:7436 that such interception by the state’s intelligence service, the AIVD, is unlawful where it lacks proper oversight by an independent body with the power to prevent or terminate it.
The ruling gives the state six months to introduce such a system. The judge stated that even the possibility of infringements to privilege damages the right to an effective defence and access to lawyers.
Pestman said that following the ruling, which has not been appealed, the government would have to change the law. ‘They will come up with something, but I am sure it will not be sufficient,’ he said, pointing out that the judgment applies only to lawyer-client communications.
The case followed revelations in the UK about surveillance of communications between lawyers at the human rights group Reprieve and clients in Libya.
‘This case is yet further evidence that we have moved into a frighteningly Orwellian era,’ Kat Craig, legal director of Reprieve, said. ‘The right to confidential lawyer/client communications is not a luxury: it is an essential principle without which the whole justice system is rigged in favour of the powerful.’