Letter: Happy to draft the Royal Family's complaint

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Sir: The speculations about whether the security services have been involved in tapping telephones and keeping the Royal Family under surveillance may sell newspapers but should also make us consider the more serious issue of accountability. There is no real accountability to Parliament or to anyone else. We have seen recently that the Home Secretary will not even allow the head of MI5 to give evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Home Affairs.

To deal first with telephone tapping: even assuming that the security services obey the rules, the authorisation for such action needs to be given only by the Home Secretary, and does not require the authority of a court, as would a warrant to search premises. Following a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, the Government was forced to introduce a mechanism for individuals who wished to complain that their telephones had been unlawfully interfered with. Since the Intereception of Communications Tribunal started work in 1987, it has not upheld one of the 253 complaints made to it.

The complaints mechanism set up to deal with unlawful surveillance by the security service was also set up as a result of a case taken to the European Commission of Human Rights, this time on behalf of the general secretary and legal officer of Liberty. The Security Service Tribunal also has a perfect record, and has never upheld a complaint by anyone, despite a number of cases referred by Liberty.

The decisions of neither tribunal can be questioned in courts in this country. Both systems have a government-appointed commissioner to oversee their work, but this again is no substitute for parliamentary accountability or real legal remedies.

I have no inside information on what the security services are up to, but it is clear that substantial changes to increase accountability need to be made, not least to reassure the public. It is probably presumptuous of me to offer my services to draft a complaint on behalf of the Royal Family to the two tribunals, but the offer is there none the less. I would have to advise that the chances of success are slim.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN WADHAM

Liberty

London, SE1

13 May

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