Lords vote for phone-tap evidence

Peers have approved the use of phone tap evidence in organised crime cases, despite government opposition.

The House of Lords last night passed an amendment, introduced by Lord Lloyd, to the serious crime bill that would allow intercept evidence to be used in some cases.

The amendment was passed 182 votes to 121 after peers argued the UK has become an anomaly in not allowing intercept evidence. Lord Lloyd argued it “simply does not make sense” that it is used elsewhere but not in the UK.

Home Office minister Lady Scotland maintained the UK should not use the evidence until it was “safe” to do so, adding the government is not opposed in principle to using intercept evidence.

Some security agencies fear that allowing evidence obtained through phone taps to be used in court will compromise the quality of intelligence, as suspects may become unwilling to disclose potential evidence over the phone. However, others claim it is already used in the US and Australia with no ill-effects.

Lord Lloyd said: “What is lacking on this issue is not the ability to introduce this, it is a lack of political will to make the decision. This house should now make the decision for the government.”

However, Conservative peer Baroness Park, a former senior officer at MI6, voiced concerns that intercept evidence would be extended to terrorism cases.

Once a concession had been made, it would be extremely hard to retract it, Baroness Park said. She also pointed out that the UK is different to other countries in that the police and intelligence agencies work so closely together.”

The bill is currently in its report stage in the Lords and the amendment could still be overturned amid government opposition. However, the attorney general Lord Goldsmith has now come out in favour of intercept evidence.

The serious crime bill contains a range of measures designed to strengthen law enforcement agencies, targeted at organised crime. Other measures include crime prevention orders and a new offence of intentionally encouraging a criminal act.