Northern Ireland

Law Society seeks clarification from PSNI over lawyer spy revelations

Spy report presented to Policing Board raises concerns

A report into the PSNI surveillance of journalists and lawyers has identified up to 18 incidents involving members of the press and legal professio (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)
The Law Society has sought clarification from the PSNI over revelations that lawyers have been spied on (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)

The Law Society has written to Chief Constable Jon Boutcher after it emerged that the PSNI spied on members of the legal profession and journalists.

Details emerged after a report into PSNI surveillance of media members identified up to 18 incidents, it has emerged.

It is understood the document confirms there are fewer than 10 incidents relating to journalists and the same again for lawyers - meaning there could potentially be up to nine incidents involving members of each profession.

The report, which was presented to members of the Policing Board last week and will not be made public, has since been criticised.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) gives numerous government departments and bodies the power to carry out surveillance and intercept communications of private citizens. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Concerns have been raised over PSNI surveillance of journalists and lawyers

As concerns grow over the spy scandal, the Policing Board’s human rights adviser has been given access to PSNI material linked to last week’s report.

The paper was requested by the Policing Board last year after it emerged that two journalists – Barry McCaffrey, a former Irish News reporter, and Trevor Birney – had been placed under surveillance.

Their case is being considered by the powerful Independent Powers Tribunal (IPT) in London.

The IPT examines complaints from people who believe they have been the victim of unlawful interference by public authorities, using covert techniques, including the PSNI.

A spokesman for the Law Society said it has now sought clarification from the PSNI.

The Law Society of Northern Ireland - which is the representative body of the solicitor profession - has written to the Chief Constable seeking urgent clarification of recent reports suggesting that the PSNI has conducted covert surveillance against members of the legal profession in Northern Ireland.”

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: “The Chief Constable is required to co-operate with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) who independently authorises and oversee the use of investigatory powers in the United Kingdom ensuring they are used in accordance with the law and in the public interest.

“The Chief Constable will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Policing Board and their Human Rights Legal Advisor to assist the Board in assessing any relevant findings of IPCO and any determinations by the related Investigatory Powers Tribunal.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the IPT has told a Belfast-based lawyer who made a complaint it cannot provide the results of an investigation on ‘national security’ grounds despite saying it is in the “interests of justice” to do so.

The legal professional, who deals with Troubles and other sensitive cases, complained to the IPT after receiving information they were under PSNI and MI5 surveillance.