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Police listened in on confidential lawyer discussions

© Alberto Rodriguez Santana for Unsplash

Officers from a police force in East Flanders listened in on confidential discussions between lawyers and their clients in clear breach of the law, De Tijd reports.

The investigation was carried out by the Supervisory Body for Police Information (COC), an independent parliamentary body that oversees matters of privacy and the police. It was based on a complaint from someone who was convinced, on the basis of what police appeared to know about their case, that private conversations had been overheard.

Communications between an accused person and their lawyer are confidential, and police stations are equipped to provide access and privacy.

Following the complaint, the COC carried out an unannounced visit to the station in question, whose location has not been revealed. There they found that security cameras, including those in interview rooms, were filming permanently, and the recordings were kept routinely.

The exception was the interview rooms, where the recording of sound and vision was only triggered by a watching officer. Something which is clearly illegal.

Even filming of an interview room without sound requires a warrant issued by a prosecutor or investigating magistrate, and cannot lawfully be decided on the opinion of a police officer.

The term ‘interview room’ covers a room or rooms set aside for consultations with legal counsel. Recordings of proceedings are routine in interrogation rooms, on the other hand.

The COC investigators found a lack of internal rules on the use of cameras. Not only that, but a large screen hanging in the entrance to the police station and visible to the public relayed images from the cells and other locales in the building – another flagrant breach of privacy.

Ultimately, the initial complaint that led to the investigation turned out to be grounded. In the interview room in question, the cameras were in constant operation, with sound and vision being recorded.

Being able to listen to a confidential consultation between lawyer and client, let alone recording and storing it, is completely unacceptable,” the COC says in its report, seen by De Tijd.

But even listening in itself is a criminal offence.”

Details of the COC investigation have now been passed on to the prosecutor’s office in East Flanders.

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