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Intercept Evidence

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2014

The interception of communications plays a vital role in preventing terrorist attacks and tackling serious and organised crime. Interception is used in some form in the majority of MI5’s top priority counter-terrorism investigations. It plays a crucial role in the work of the police and the National Crime Agency to bring serious criminals to justice.

The prohibition on the disclosure of warranted intercept in court is a long-standing one. It has served to protect the most sensitive capabilities of the security and intelligence agencies. And it has set the context in which the current interception regime has evolved.

The Government are committed to securing the maximum number of convictions in terrorism and serious crime cases. The experience of other countries is that the use of evidence gathered through interception may help to achieve that. For that reason, the Government have sought to find a practical way to allow the use of intercept as evidence in criminal proceedings.

I am today publishing the findings of the Government’s review of intercept as evidence as a Command Paper (Cm 8989).

This review considered whether it would be possible to introduce intercept as evidence in a way that was consistent with the right to a fair trial. The costs of translation, transcription and retention in order to disclose material to the defence would be substantial, diverting considerable resources away from investigative work.

The review found that the benefits—measured in additional convictions—would be highly uncertain. On some assumptions, the use of intercept as evidence would lead to a small increase in convictions. On others it would lead to a significant decrease.

The review concluded that the costs and risks of introducing intercept as evidence are disproportionate to the assessed benefits. This conclusion was unanimously endorsed by the advisory group of Privy Counsellors who have overseen the review from its inception.

Based on the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis, the review concluded that intercept as evidence should not be introduced at this time. However, the Government will keep this position under review.

This review has benefited from the experience and advice of the advisory group of Privy Counsellors, chaired by the right hon. Sir John Chilcot and comprising my noble Friend the right hon. Lord Howard of Lympne, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), and the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), who replaced the right hon. noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. The Government are indebted to them for their hard work, which is now complete.

Copies of the review will be available in the Vote Office.