Law Soc damns bugging code

A new Code of Practice hailed by the Government as safeguarding lawyers' conversations with their clients from unwarranted police surveillance has been condemned by the Law Society.

The code was unveiled by the Government last week in response to fears that the last administration's Police Bill, passed in March, did not protect lawyer-client confidentiality.

It has been released to 200 organisations for consultation, and states that chief constables should go to a judicial commissioner for approval to listen into conversations discussing matters subject to legal privilege.

In urgent cases police can get that approval retrospectively.

But Roger Ede, secretary of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said the code would not prevent solicitors' conversations with clients being bugged by the police.

He said the commissioner would only be able to make a decision within the framework of the Police Bill.

“The code of practice does nothing to help. It doesn't even begin to tackle the problem,” he said.

The society now has until 30 September to convince the Government that legal privilege should be fully protected in legislation and bugging should only be allowed if lawyers are involved in criminal activity.

Ede said: “I'm not optimistic because the Home Office is already aware of our concerns.”

The Code received a warmer welcome from the Bar Council following a fierce attack on bugging provisions in the Police Bill by chairman Robert Owen QC earlier this year.