The Investigatory Powers Bill weakens legal privilege and undermines fair trials, the Bar Council has warned.

Despite assurances given that the new surveillance legislation would contain protections for lawyers, the Bar Council said the Bill – introduced on 1 March – allows authorities total access to confidential, legally privileged communications between individuals and their lawyers, even when someone is in a legal dispute with the government or defending themselves against prosecution.

A cross-party scrutiny committee recommended in February that legal professional privilege should be safeguarded in the Bill.

Commenting on the ‘far reaching’ implications for fundamental rights, and the short timetable allowed for its passage, Bar Chairman, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, said she was ‘disappointed’ that the Bill does not provide sufficient protection for legal privilege on its face: ‘It is vital that this measure is subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny.’

Peter Carter QC, Chair of the Bar Council Surveillance and Privacy Working Group, said: ‘We have explained in very clear terms to the government that legal privilege does not apply where lawyer client communications reveal information that could be used to prevent a terror attack, foil a threat to national security, or bring an end to an ongoing crime such as a kidnapping or the abuse of a child. Neither does privilege apply where a lawyer is acting illegally.’

But he said the Bill ignores the distinction between privileged and non-privileged communications and ‘gives authorities powers to spy on sensitive, highly confidential communications that have nothing to do with criminality, national security or threats to individuals’.