Giving judges power to grant spying warrants instead of ministers would be 'glib' says ex anti-terror adviser

Lord Carlile says judges lack the necessary national security knowledge to take charge of issuing surveillance warrants 

Matt Dathan
Online political reporter
Monday 02 November 2015 13:01
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Lord Carlile said judges lack the necessary knowledge to oversee surveillance warrants
Lord Carlile said judges lack the necessary knowledge to oversee surveillance warrants

Putting judges in charge of issuing surveillance warrants would fail because they lack the sufficient knowledge of national security issues, the Government’s former anti-terror adviser has said.

Lord Carlile QC criticised calls by civil liberty campaigners who want to ensure government plans to give ministers the power to issue warrants do not go ahead, describing their demands that they be handed to judges as “glib”.

He said only a “handful of judges” have an understanding of national security, very few were “fully vetted” and said they would need significant training if put in charge. He said it was “ultimately responsibility of ministers” to oversee warrants.

On Sunday Tory MP David Davis warned that MPs and peers would veto giving the police and security services the power to monitor suspects online unless judges are put in charge of issuing surveillance warrants.

He issued the warning ahead of this week’s publication of a draft Investigatory Power Bill which will overhaul the legislation governing the interception of communications.

Labour has appeared to back Mr Davis' position, saying it should ultimately be up to judges to have the final say over warrants.

But Lord Carlile, the Liberal Democrat peer who served as the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation for 10 years, told the Today programme: “I think it is a rather glib comment to say ‘get the judges to authenticate everything’.

“Judges are, of course, very good quality men and women, [but] if judges are going to authenticate these issues, they have to learn about national security ... At the moment, there is a handful of judges who have real understanding of national security.”

He said there had been “quite a lot of demonisation, rather casually, of the police and security services who in reality are the unsung heroes who have kept this country safe in recent years”.

He pointed out it would be much harder to get in touch with judges in the middle of the night to authorise warrants than it would with ministers if spying chiefs needed urgent action on a terror threat.

According to reports over the weekend, ministers would initially issue the warrants and their decisions would be checked by security-cleared judges.

Andy Burnham, the shadow Home Secretary, said there was "broad acceptance" that new legislation was required but called for the Government to "ensure that judges have the final say".

Lord Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, said it appeared that the Conservatives had abandoned the worse elements of the "snooper's charter" proposals.

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