Two Libyan families who were kidnapped and ‘rendered’ to Gaddafi’s prisons by British intelligence have filed a complaint over GCHQ’s eavesdropping on their legal communications.
Gaddafi opponent Abdul Hakim Belhadj and his then-pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar, and the al Saadi family – including four children aged 12 or under – were kidnapped and forcibly flown back to Libya in joint MI6-CIA-Libyan operations in 2004. Since then, they have taken legal action against the UK Government over its part in their abuse, revealed in a fax from MI6’s Sir Mark Allen which came to light after the fall of Gaddafi.
However, following recent revelations over the extent of eavesdropping by UK agency GCHQ, they have filed complaints with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) over the “strong likelihood” that UK intelligence is intercepting their legally privileged communications with their legal team – a move which would undermine their attempts to secure justice through the courts.
Legal professional privilege is a crucial and centuries-old principle of English law, which protects the confidentiality of a client’s communications with their lawyer, and without which the right to a fair trial is undermined.
The IPT is a highly-secretive tribunal responsible for complaints made over abuses by the security services. Concerns have been raised over the one-sided nature of the IPT process – in the vast majority of cases, the complainant sees none of the evidence deployed by the Government, and will often be left in ignorance even of the outcome of the case. However, it remains one of the few avenues for pursuing accountability against the intelligence services.
Cori Crider, Strategic Director of the legal charity Reprieve, said: "It is bad enough that UK security services helped kidnap and render young children and a pregnant woman into the hands of Colonel Gaddafi. To add insult to injury, they are now trying to undermine their right to a fair trial by spying on private communications with their lawyers. UK complicity in Gaddafi's torture of his opponents is a shameful incident that needs to be opened up to public scrutiny – not subject to more skulduggery from GCHQ."