CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANISATION LIBERTY claimed a victory for accountability when, on 26 March, the High Court ruled that the UK Home Secretary unlawfully tried to veto the appointment of an expert to scrutinise the security services.

Liberty says the decision is a victory for fairness and shows the importance of judicial review in upholding our rights.

The Home Office decided to block the appointment of an independent expert to a body overseeing the security services, following concerns raised by those bodies. The High Court ruled that decision was unlawful. Liberty has called for a right of appeal to be provided to ensure such unlawful conduct never happens again.

In 2017, Eric Kind, an expert in surveillance technology and privacy rights, was appointed to Head of Investigations at the Investigatory Powers Commissioners’ Office (IPCO). IPCO is the independent watchdog which oversees MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

In 2018, the Home Office denied Kind security clearance to work at IPCO. In the judgment it was confirmed that the Home Office had acted unlawfully in pre-judging this decision. The Home Office failed to approach Eric Kind’s application with an open mind.

The Judges said that the “elephant in the room” was that someone hired by IPCO to conduct oversight of the security services was refused clearance for reasons “not unrelated to his background in civil liberties work”. The ruling shows that there are serious fairness problems at the Home Office with the way this process works.

Liberty has called for the Home Office to give a right of appeal against decisions to block appointments to independent oversight functions. Those roles are vital to ensuring the intelligence services comply with the law. The organisation has fought long-running cases against the UK’s surveillance powers, with several currently ongoing.

Liberty lawyer Katy Watts said: “We all want to know that the people handed enormous power by the State are subject to scrutiny. The British Government has handed security services some of the most extensive powers in the world to spy on a huge number of us. It is critical that such extensive powers are subject to checks and scrutiny.

“Those currently in power are now undermining these core principles and refusing to facilitate proper scrutiny of the security services is just another example of a Government dodging accountability.

“After today’s ruling, there needs to be a right to challenge these decisions to prevent the security services from appointing their own supervisors. We should be able to challenge Government when it gets something wrong, and we should be confident those who spy on us are held to account by independent experts.”

Eric Kind said: “Robust independent oversight is essential for democracy and trust in the security and intelligence services. It requires a diversity of perspectives and expertise. That can only be achieved through a fair and impartial vetting process, which the Court has found was not provided to me. I hope an independent appeals process for those joining oversight bodies will now be established, to prevent this happening again.”

* Source: Liberty