Sandhu bugging akin to current Garda fiasco

Londonderry solicitor Johnny Sandhu, was secretly bugged in a PSNI station.
Londonderry solicitor Johnny Sandhu, was secretly bugged in a PSNI station.

Whilst Dublin is now agonising over the taping of calls to Garda stations, two-and-a-half years ago the Sentinel reported how illegal bugging may have been sanctioned by the Government in the United Kingdom.

In November 2011, the Sentinel reported how the practice may have been going on for over two years contrary to a Northern Ireland High Court ruling on an appeal brought in the aftermath of the PSNI’s secret taping of rogue Londonderry solicitor Johnny Sandhu. That was according to a report published by the human rights group Justice.

‘Freedom from Suspicion: Surveillance Reform for a Digital Age’ report suggested Government may have allowed police and prison governors to continue to authorise the covert surveillance of private consultations between solicitors and clients.

They did so despite the ruling of the Northern Ireland High Court in 2007 and a subsequent Law Lords ruling in 2009 that this was in breach of prisoners’ rights under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The report referred to the High Court’s ruling on an application for Judicial Review in November 2007, which heard that solicitors representing two prisoners taken to Antrim Police Station on April 19, 2006 for questioning on suspicion of terrorism offences demanded assurances that their conversations would not be bugged.

“They asked for that assurance because there had been media reporting a short time before about the arrest of a solicitor who was subsequently charged with serious offences.

“The reports suggested that the arrest had been the result of covert surveillance of legal consultations that the solicitor had had with clients in custody,” the court was told.

The case prompting the solicitors’ concerns was that of Londonderry solicitor Manmohan ‘Johnny’ Sandhu who was secretly bugged inciting loyalist paramilitaries to murder and was later jailed for 10 years in 2009.

Under surveillance law the police can authorise spying as long as it does not intrude on a person’s home or vehicle but ‘intrusive surveillance’ which now includes that of lawyer/client consultations needs the approval of a Surveillance Commissioner.

Questions are being raised in the Republic of Ireland of the legality or otherwise of the taping of calls to Garda stations, which may have been going on for many years.

In Northern Ireland the monitoring of conversations and mobile and internet activity is perfectly legal if proper procedures are followed. In May 2012, this paper reported how the PSNI spent £1m accessing people’s mobile phone data between 2006/7 and 2010/11.

The money was paid out to mobile phone companies for access to data under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The paper also informed its readers the PSNI had applied for permission to intercept people’s telephone calls, emails or letters and acquire their telephone billing or subscriber details on 13,848 occasions between April 2009 and May 2012.