David Davis MP speech in the House of Commons calling for Intercept as Evidence to be used in court


“It is a privilege to follow Mr Lammy, who has done a sterling job of making the basic case, and, perhaps in some ways more importantly, of defending the interests and rights of his constituents, some of whom feel very aggrieved after the events of last year. I shall speak more briefly than he did and try to wrap around his argument, but hon. Members should forgive me if I repeat one or two things he has said.

The primary distinction between the great democracies of modern times and the totalitarian states is how they treat their citizens. We believe we treat our citizens in a civilised way compared with the totalitarian states—they

will imprison, torture and, in the final analysis, kill without trail, whether they are Soviet or Nazi states, or any of the other species or flavours of totalitarian state that we have been unfortunate to see in past decades.

Emotionally, we might believe that we do not do those things because we are nicer people than they are, but the reason for the distinction—between totalitarian states and our state and similar ones such as America—is simply the rule of law. If colleagues want to test that, I suggest they consider the operations of the British state when it has operated outside the constraints of the rule of law, such as in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion, when well brought up, well educated, and no doubt expensively educated, men—it is always men—acted with a brutality that would have done justice to some of the totalitarian states to which I have referred. The rule of law prevents that by exposing acts of the state to judicial challenge and questioning, and that process is never more important than when a citizen of the state dies at the hands of an agency of the state. Since the 1997 general election, 38 people have been killed in Britain by police forces. In most cases, the inquest gave a verdict of lawful killing. In one that I am aware of, the Jean Charles de Menezes case, there was an open verdict, and some, of course, are still outstanding.

Although I will be critical of agencies of the state, I want to make one point: I am not criticising police officers operating on the front line as parts of the armed response units. Their job is sometimes terrifying. I was critical of what happened in the Jean Charles de Menezes case, but the policemen involved went on to a tube train not knowing whether the man they were seeking to apprehend was carrying a bomb that would have killed everybody on the tube train, including themselves. In other circumstances, the armed response units are deployed when they do not know whether the people they are seeking to apprehend or stop will shoot them or use armed force against them. It is easy in the cold environment of the Chamber not to understand the terror, fear and pressure on people in those circumstances. What I am about to say, therefore, is not a criticism of them.

That is not an excuse, however, for not knowing the full facts after the event or for pulling our legal punches. It is an absolute requirement that the killing of a British citizen by an agency of the state be properly and publicly reviewed, with access to all key data. That is the case for all sorts of reasons, some of which the right hon. Gentleman listed: to ensure that it is never done improperly and that there is never a deliberate killing by the state; to ensure that errors and accidents are never repeated; and to ensure that systemic failures are not repeated—very much an issue in the Jean Charles de Menezes case, and possibly an issue in the two cases to which he referred, the Rodney and Duggan cases.

Also, not equally important but still massively important, it is necessary to ensure that the public, the families and the communities from which the people come have confidence in the system. The mother of a young man who has been shot should never feel that her son has been judicially—or, indeed, extra-judicially—executed. I am afraid that, in at least one case, that appears to be the situation. It is essential, therefore, that we have an open and fully informed inquest after every single fatal operation of the state against an individual, because that is what keeps us a civilised state. As the right hon. Gentleman said, in two cases that is either not possible

or likely not to be possible: the Azelle Rodney case, which has already gone to a judicial inquiry, and potentially in the Mark Duggan case.

As outlined, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

“specifically bars any evidence in court, or any question, assertion or disclosure in legal proceedings, which results from warranted interception or would reveal that warranted interception had taken place.”

As the right hon. Gentleman said, that is an incredibly draconian restriction. That quotation came from the Chilcot committee’s summary. As a result, the Azelle Rodney case has gone to judicial inquiry, and, as I said, the Duggan case might well follow suit. This is a massive problem for the families and communities involved, but it is also a massive problem for open justice and a handicap for our national security.

Some years ago, my hon. Friend Mr Raab and I went to the United States to talk to people about the whole question of the use of intercept. We talked to the National Security Agency, to the FBI—I think—to the Department of Justice and to the National Counterterrorism Centre. I have probably forgotten some of the other organisations, but every one of them said exactly the same thing: in summary, they could not do their jobs without the use of intercept in court. If I can quote him approximately correctly, the Department of Justice representative said, “If we go to a case”—either a major gang case, a major gangsterism or organised crime case, or a terrorism case—“and there is not intercept, the jury wonder what’s happened. They wonder why we have not got the intercept.” The idea that the criminals involved do not know that intercept technology is being used is therefore laughable—I use that word carefully. I will come back to that point.

Incidentally, the Department of Homeland Security is another place we went to. The homeland security gentleman we spoke to—I cannot remember whether he was the deputy director or the head, but he was one or the other—said he could not understand why the British took the stance they took. It was quite clear that, for the Americans, intercept was not just a marginal advantage; it was a massive advantage in the fight against organised crime and terror. Similarly, the Australian evidence—we did not go to Australia—is much the same. There are some categories of case that simply cannot proceed without intercept—in particular, cases involving the importation of drugs. Again, the Australians said that anybody who does not use intercept is not acting seriously—that was the phrase of, I think, the director of public prosecutions federally in Australia.

We are the only major democracy to have such a bar to the use of intercept evidence. The arguments are essentially twofold. First, if criminals knew they were being intercepted, they would cease to use the telephone or whatever medium was being intercepted, and that would lead to the loss of valuable intelligence. The right hon. Member for Tottenham made suitably short work of that viewpoint in his argument. Secondly, criminals might be able to work out the methods by which the intercept evidence had been obtained if it were used in court.

In a minute I shall quote at some length from Lord Lloyd of Berwick; I should remind the House that he was a senior Law Lord and head of the Security Commission for most of the ’90s. He was the man

whom the last Conservative Government asked to review the entire sweep of terrorist legislation and to revise it for them, and the last Labour Government implemented everything he recommended. That is how authoritative this man is. He is the man who knows more about this subject than anybody else in Britain—full stop—and he has tabled a Bill in the Lords to try to bring forward the change in the restriction that we are debating.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick said the following about the legal position:

“In common with every other common-law country, we have developed a means of protecting sensitive information that is thought to be at risk in some way. The principle is called public interest immunity; there is nothing new about it. It is well understood in the courts. I do not say that it is used every day but it is used very frequently.”

He then set out where it came from and said:

“It is inconceivable that a judge would order documents to be disclosed, or information to be discovered, that would reveal methods used by GCHQ and other agencies. If the judge went off his head and did so order, the prosecution would at once appeal to the Court of Appeal, which would put the situation right.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 16 March 2007; Vol. 690, c. 967.]

That is clear and it is clearly correct. In fact, throughout the entire period, over decades, when we faced the Soviet threat, which, I have to say to the House, was much bigger than the al-Qaeda threat—it was more sophisticated, more dangerous and more existential—never once was what Lord Lloyd of Berwick described broken. Never once did a judge release into the public domain the sorts of the things that we are concerning ourselves with in this debate.

Those who support the current ban then say, “But the European Court of Human Rights can overrule us and release this information to the criminals and the terrorists.” Actually, that is not the case. Using British criminal cases alone, we have clear direction and precedent. In Rowe and Davies v. United Kingdom 2000, the ECHR clearly stated that

“as the applicants recognised, the entitlement to disclosure of relevant evidence is not an absolute right. In any criminal proceedings there may be competing interests, such as national security or the need to protect witnesses at risk of reprisals or keep secret police methods of investigation of crime, which must be weighed against the rights of the accused. In some cases it may be necessary to withhold certain evidence from the defence so as to preserve the fundamental rights of another individual or to safeguard an important public interest.”

I have not seen that put any clearer in any British court—that was the Strasbourg Court’s view—and that was not the only case. Almost exactly the same words were repeated in a subsequent case, Botmeh and Alami v. United Kingdom 2007. As Lord Lloyd said,

“there is no absolute right to disclosure: disclosure is always subject to the overriding interest of national security.”

Before I go on to outline the other inconsistencies, I want to point out that I think it highly unlikely that the ECHR would ever instruct us to release information. I know of cases in which it has admonished Governments for the destruction of information, but I know of no case in which it has instructed them to release it. Even if it did so, we demonstrated pretty clearly in a Backbench Business Committee debate on prisoners’ votes some time ago that, if the House so decides, it can defy an ECHR judgment if it thinks that it is against the

national interest. At the end of the day, that is our final recourse. I cannot imagine the House doing anything other than voting against disclosure, if we were instructed to release such information. There has been a tendency for the agencies, which are understandably nervous of exposure to the courts, to overstate the risk. That was the one weakness in the otherwise powerful Chilcot report.

It is an astonishing inconsistency, as the right hon. Member for Tottenham pointed out, that we can use foreign intercept evidence but not our own. A stark and, frankly, embarrassing example of that came to light after the Heathrow bomb plot, when the agencies had to obtain from Yahoo in California parallel intercept evidence to the evidence that I suspect they had in their own files. I cannot say that they had it, but I suspect that they did. I cannot think of a more laughable demonstration of the stupidity of the policy than our having to go to a foreign country to get evidence that we almost certainly already had.

A second inconsistency is that we can use bugging, as the right hon. Gentleman also pointed out. If my telephone call to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton were intercepted, that evidence could not be used, but if there were a bug in my phone, the evidence could be used. Is one more secret than the other, or more dangerous to disclose? I think not. We might want to withhold from criminals the knowledge that we were using a laser microphone and interferometry —a high-tech mechanism—but we could use that evidence in court, whereas we could not use intercept evidence. That strikes me as laughable.

There is a third aspect of the matter that is laughable. The right hon. Gentleman said that GCHQ was a competent and capable organisation, and I agree with him. However, in this type of work, which is complex but not incomprehensible, our sophistication, capability, skills, innovations and edge are all a function of the amount of money that is spent. That is why we spend more money on GCHQ than on the other two agencies put together, but that is as nothing—a drop in the ocean—compared with what the American agencies use. They have no problem at all with placing their information in the public domain.

Furthermore, we have the internet. Any terrorist or criminal operating in the UK can look on the internet and find examples of the things that we are supposed to be concealing. Let me provide a topical example. The other day we were told about a particular technique that one of the agencies wanted to protect. For obvious reasons, I cannot talk about it, but just out of curiosity I googled it. Guess what? There is an article about it on an American site, outlining exactly how it happens and how it is used. If our criminals and terrorists want to know about this technique, they need only reach for that fierce weapon of a Google search. This is simply ridiculous; we are hiding things that everywhere else in the world are in open sight, and I do not believe that we have skills so much greater than those of our allies and contemporaries to justify protecting ours above and beyond theirs.

In my opinion we can safely allow intercept evidence in court without jeopardising our intelligence-gathering techniques above and beyond where they are now. However, my opinion is as nothing in comparison with the learned judgments of the most eminent security commission in

modern times, for a start, and of at least two previous Directors of Public Prosecution, not to mention past Attorneys-General—I was corrected on the language by my hon. and learned Friend Stephen Phillips—previous heads of the Met, previous incumbents of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and a whole series of people who have been up close and personal with these issues. All of them want to use such information in court. I take their opinion with at least as much seriousness as I take the opinion of currently operating agencies which might be embarrassed about coming out into the public domain.

These experts, moreover, point to fact that every major country uses such evidence without risk. It allows serious terrorists and criminals to be apprehended and convicted and, as has been intimated, the head of every single one of five mafia families in New York is now in prison. That would not be true without intercept. There are terrorists in prison today who would not be in prison without intercept. That is true in every country from America to Australia.

The previous Government saw this problem as a serious handicap to our system—I give them that credit; I think they were open-minded about this—and set up the Chilcot Privy Council review of intercept evidence, which recommended careful reform of the law to allow the use of such evidence in court. I have some quibbles with it, but I think it is a pretty good report generally. That decision was then derailed by the Government’s and agencies’ over-interpretation of a case, Natunen v. Finland, in which the European Court on Human Rights rebuked the Finnish Government for destroying exculpatory intercept evidence.

The ECHR was right to rebuke the Finnish Government on that. Evidence was not forced into the public domain, because it had already been destroyed. The Finnish Government took it on the chin and changed the basis for treatment pretty much straight away by introducing a judge to decide the process. That is fine. That Government have continued to use intercept. Since then, nothing has happened in Britain. As a result, the inquest over Azelle Rodney has been disallowed, and we now have a judicial inquiry. To remind Members of what happened to Azelle Rodney, he was shot with an assault rifle from a range of only 15 metres about half a dozen times. He died. Guns were found in the car he was in, so there might well have been good reason for the action taken, but we will never know because of this foolish and unwise restriction. As a result, his family is in a permanent state of grief, which will never be allayed by a judicial inquiry. If we do not put this right, the family of Mark Duggan and his community will be in the same position.

It is time to put this matter right, and time we allowed these communities, families and people to know the truth, whatever the truth may be. It is also time that we gave the wider national community the enhanced security that would arise from a reform of the law, and the added protection that intercept evidence gives them—the ability to prosecute and convict serious criminals and terrorists. Finally, it is time we stopped asking our judicial authorities to act with one hand tied behind their back, and gave them the right to operate the law as it should be operated—with full knowledge of, and full insight into, the issues they have to resolve for us.”