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European Court ruling backs protection of legal privilege

21 December 2016

Key protections that back strict limitations on the interception of legally privileged material have been backed by the Court of Justice of the European Union, in a move hailed by the Law Society of England and Wales.

The Law Society was permitted to intervene in the case of the Secretary of State for the Home Department v Watson and others to outline to the Court its concern about the effect of surveillance legislation on legal professional privilege (LPP) and other sensitive information which may be deliberately or inadvertently intercepted.

"Legal professional privilege is a fundamental part of the relationship that solicitors have with their clients, ensuring that our clients can seek legal advice in the confidence that it cannot be disclosed to a third party," said Law Society president Robert Bourns.

"Today's ruling from the European Court strongly supports the need to protect sensitive information such as legally privileged material, which is private information belonging to the client, and to ensure it is accessed only when absolutely necessary, with robust and independent oversight.

"The Law Society has worked constructively with government to seek protection for legally privileged material in surveillance law and regulatory regimes. We look forward to continuing this positive engagement as the ministers take steps to implement this ruling."

Notes to editors

The Law Society has advocated for the protection of legal professional privilege on a range of matters recently, including:

  • achieving significant changes to the Investigatory Powers Act. Read our press release.
  • opposing changes to the Solicitors Regulation Authority handbook which could have significant implications for LPP . Read our submission.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Oliver Searle | | +44 (0)20 7316 5624