Letter: How phone tap evidence could be used in terrorism trials

Sir: The Home Secretary's refusal to consider the introduction of phone-tap evidence in court proceedings is another demonstration of a Government that is not at ease with the notion of judicial control. The basic argument for not bringing to justice the Belmarsh detainees was that the main evidence against them consisted in intercepted telephone communications that could not be used in court. A potential relaxation of the prohibition on using phone-taps could prevent the Government from relying on such grounds in the future.

In that direction, it is rightly argued that intercepted evidence is admissible in the vast majority of foreign jurisdictions. This comparative law argument should not be overstated; in these jurisdictions telephone interceptions are ordered and conducted under strict judicial control, which is not the case in Great Britain. Nevertheless, provided there was more judicial control of telephone interceptions and provided the principles of legality and proportionality were fully respected, comparative law could show the way forward towards the admissibility of telephone taps. Foreign states have learnt to live with the hypothetical risk that the use of phone-tap evidence in terrorism cases is alleged to have, namely a potential compromise of national security. Britain might have to learn to live with the same risk, rather than continue in the track of detentions without charge.


Lecturer, Criminal Law and Evidence,

Brunel University, Middlesex