GCHQ ordered to destroy illegally intercepted communications between Libyan dissident and lawyers

GCHQ has been ordered by a court to destroy documents relating to communications between a Libyan dissident and his lawyers which they illegally intercepted.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, chaired by High Court judge Mr Justice Burton, ruled that the UK intelligence agency breached Sami Al-Saadi’s human rights when it took him and his family from Hong Kong in 2004 and handed them over to the Gaddafi regime with the support of MI6.

Mr Al-Saadi’s lawyers said the IPT’s ruling represented the first time the IPT had upheld a complaint against the intelligence services in its 15 years of existence.

In addition, it marks the first time an intelligence agency has been required to hand over its surveillance documents.

The court gave GCHQ two weeks to confirm it had destroyed the documents which contained privileged communications between Mr Al-Saadi and his lawyers before his case against the UK government - which it settled for £2.2 million.

His lawyers said they thought the case was the “tip of the iceberg” as far as unlawful interception of privileged communications by GCHQ as well as MI5 and MI6 is concerned.

The IPT said GCHQ infringed Mr Al-Saadi’s European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)article 8 right to privacy and a family life.

It stated: “In order to emphasise the importance of the protection of legally privileged material, the Tribunal has required GCHQ to give an undertaking that the parts of the documents containing legally privileged information will be destroyed or deleted.”

The tribunal declined to give Mr Al-Saadi the documents and refused to compensate him, adding that the intercepted material had not contained any legal advice and had not been shown to UK government officials or lawyers.

James Wolffe, QC, dean of Faculty, said: “I welcome the IPT’s decision which reaffirms the importance of legal professional privilege and the importance of having a public and transparent process by which the state can be held accountable for any violation of a citizen’s fundamental human rights.

“I look forward to the outcome of the recent consultation on new codes which should further secure these important rights.”

Cori Crider, director at the legal charity Reprieve, which assisted in bringing the case, said: “GCHQ spied on privileged legal communications, in a case where they were being sued by a rendition and torture victim.

“We are pleased that one man has finally beaten the security services in this secretive tribunal.”

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