It has taken sixteen months, but the truth has finally emerged about interference by MI6 in an Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) investigation. The IPT is the court that considers cases involving complaints against the British intelligence services. In February 2019, the IPT was considering whether it was legal for the intelligence services to authorise its officers to break the law. As part of that enquiry, certain documents were supplied to the IPT by MI6 that contained highly classified assessments of the MI6’s work. On 5 March 2019, two MI6 officers called the secretary of the Tribunal who handles all of the paperwork for the court and insisted that the Tribunal must not look at the papers. They claimed that they were sent by mistake and insisted that they should be returned before anyone at the court could read them.
In fact, the Tribunal had every right to see the papers. The Tribunal accused MI6 of “inappropriate interference” stating that MI6 was seeking “to intervene in ongoing legal proceedings”. MI6 later admitted that it had been wrong.
It is believed that MI6 was worried about the documents because they included a damning assessment of the service’s recent poor performance. On 26 July 2020, having finally found out the truth, parties to the case, including the human rights charity Reprieve, called for an investigation into whether the interference by the officers had been authorised by the directors of MI6. In effect, they were asking whether the interference had been authorised from the very top of the organisation. It is hard to believe that they did not know what was going on in their own organisation.
Unfortunately Lord Justice Singh – who later granted the intelligence services all the powers they wanted to commit illegal acts – also refused to support civil rights in this matter. He said that there was no need to investigate as MI6 had promised that such interference would not happen again. Until the next time that is. Once again the IPT has failed to do its job properly.