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Allow the admission of intercepted communications in criminal trials

Comment 4th July 2010

The UK is the only jurisdiction which does not allow intercepted communications to be admitted in evidence in criminal proceedings.

The present ban stems from section 17 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Repealing section 17 would allow all the intelligence diligently gathered against dangerous criminals to be marshaled and used at trial.

Handicapping the security services by preventing the use of intercept evidence is like tying one hand behind our back in the fight against terrorism and serious organised crime.

Why does this matter?

Most importantly allowing the admission of intercept evidence would allow a greater number of prosecutions to be brought, against those involved in serious organised crime and terrorism. There is an overwhelming public interest in bringing individuals who are concerned with these areas of crime to justice. It was through the use of intercepted phone calls at trial that New York State successfully prosecuted and saw convicted a large number of dangerous Mafia leaders.

At present police officers who are building a case against suspected terrorists are regularly faced with an awful choice: arrest now, and risk there not being enough evidence to secure convictions or wait and arrest later, and risk a terrorist plot being carried out. Allowing the admission of intercepted communications would ease the burden on our police and security officers; they could assemble sufficient evidence to bring a prosecution at an earlier stage in the course of a terrorist plot and move in and make arrests long before there is any danger of the plot manifesting itself as a terrorist atrocity.

The present ban on excerpts from intercepted phone calls and E-mails is illogical. Evidence obtained as a result of 'bugging' is presently admissible, as is evidence obtained through a 'closed' telephone network, e.g. phone calls from prison were used to convict Ian Huntley but had he made confessions over the phone outside prison then this confession would not have been admissible at trial.

Allowing the admission of intercepted communications will not only facilitate prosecution of terrorist suspects but would also remove the need for unjust regime of 'control orders', which are presently used as an 'alternative to prosecution'. These orders are wholly inimical to our traditions of fairness and freedom from punishment without trial. Repealing s.17 RIPA 2000 would go a long way to rendering them unnecessary.

Intercepted phone calls and E-mails can also provide evidence of innocence. At present the security services can monitor phone calls and E-mails and, upon encountering potentially exculpatory evidence, ignore it, and not disclose its existence to a suspect if they are charged.

Intercept evidence will lead to a higher conviction rate in the Crown Court – the words of the accused are often the best evidence against him. There will also be more guilty pleas, as defendants are confronted with their own communications, thus saving the public the expense of lengthy and complex trials in this age of austerity.


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