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UK Attorney general backs legalising of phone-tap evidence

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Phone-tap evidence could be admitted as evidence in court as the attorney general signals a change in UK Government policy. Lord Goldsmith told The Guardian newspaper that phonetap evidence is a "key tool" that should be used.

Goldsmith, the Government's senior law officer, indicated that the current laws banning wiretap evidence could be changed in a bid to fight organised crime.

"I'm personally convinced we have to find a way of avoiding the difficulties," he said. "I do believe there are ways we can do that. Otherwise we're depriving ourselves of a key tool to prosecute serious and organised crime and terrorism".

Goldsmith is currently on a visit to the US where he has discussied the use of wire-tap evidence with the attorney general there, Alberto Gonzales. "What I'm being told here is that the admissibility of intercept evidence is critical to some of their most difficult cases," he told The Guardian. "They have put the top five mafia bosses in prison as a result of it."

Official government policy is still to maintain the ban on phone-tap evidence, and security services and police have backed the ban amidst worries that investigation techniques would become apparent via the recordings.

Prosecutors have also traditionally worried about the lifting of the ban because of the volumes of material that defendants might request. "We may need help from the legislature and the judges to avoid the agencies being swamped with irrelevant requests," said Goldsmith.

The news of Goldsmith's change of heart comes as 20 Italians, many of them police, were arrested over wire-tap evidence abuse. Phone company security chiefs and police are implicated in a case involving the gathering of surveillance on celebrities, footballers and politicians dating as far back as 1997.

Reports from Italy suggest that the leaking of wire-tap evidence to the press is commonplace in the run up to trials.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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