The Law Society has written to the Ministry of Justice to demand that it reveal how many solicitors were bugged last year or risk facing a public enquiry.
The ultimatum follows the recent row over surveillance sparked by Scotland Yard having allegedly bugged conversations between Labour MP Sadiq Khan and a constituent accused of terrorist offences, which led to revelations of routine bugging of conversations between solicitors and clients at Woodhill Prison.
Law Society president Andrew Holroyd wrote to justice secretary Jack Straw today (13 February) to express his "grave concern" at the reports, stating that "systematic eavesdropping of the kind that has been alleged is completely unacceptable and an affront to the rule of law".
The society is calling for Straw or the home secretary to reveal the number of cases last year in which ministers authorised telephone tapping that included solicitors, and the number of cases in which the monitoring of solicitors conversations with their clients was authorised under Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).
It is also calling for Straw to estimate the number of cases in each category in which unauthorised monitoring has taken place.
"As you will appreciate," the letter continues, "if ministers are not able to provide satisfactory answers to these questions promptly, the pressure for a full public inquiry is likely to become irresistible."
Holroyd argues that, while there are no explicit safeguards for legally privileged conversations under RIPA, the courts would hold that special protection does apply to legally privileged conversations between solicitors and clients.