Surveillance prompts Commons debate

VETERAN Labour MP Tam Dalyell has tabled a parliamentary question to probe the extent to which lawyers are subjected to surveillance while interviewing defendants in prisons.

Dalyell agreed to table the question following an approach by the criminal barrister Jonathan Goldberg QC, head of chambers at Three Temple Gardens, who has discovered that interviews between lawyers and their clients at the high security Belmarsh Prison are monitored by video cameras.

The MP has asked the Home Office to confirm whether the practice occurs in other prisons and “under what statutory basis the video recording of legal visits is permitted”. He also asks “under which circumstances the audio recording of legal visiting rooms is permitted”.

Goldberg found out about the surveillance at Belmarsh after an alleged drugs dealer refused to give instructions in conference in an interview room as he believed interviews were routinely recorded. He asked Labour's legal affairs spokesman Paul Boaeteng to table a question about Belmarsh.

In her reply Ann Widdecombe, the Home Office minister with responsibility for prisons, confirmed cameras were used to monitor visits, but said they had “no audio recording facility and are a legitimate way of providing the required supervision”. She said recordings of visits were only kept if “an incident occurred during a particular visit”.

The surveillance revelations come at a sensitive time. The Law Society and the Bar Council have both attacked the bugging provisions in the Govern- ment's Police Bill. “I have never known a time when I feel it is more dangerous to be a criminal lawyer,” said Goldberg.