Change introduced to allay spying bill fears

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 April, 2006, 12:00am

The government is to introduce an amendment to its surveillance bill, strengthening provisions to protect lawyer-client confidentiality.

But lawmakers at the Legislative Council Bills Committee meeting yesterday questioned whether the amendment went far enough, warning it might still be too vague.

Permanent Secretary for Security Stanley Ying Yiu-hong said the common law upheld legal professional privilege except when communications between a lawyer and client were 'in furtherance of a criminal purpose'.

Where confidential lawyer-client information was inadvertently obtained, it could not be used for 'any law enforcement purposes' and would have to be destroyed as soon as it was not needed.

The government argued that by not overriding this common law principle, the bill did not damage it. But following advice from some members, Mr Ying said an amendment would be introduced. The amendment, which would draw reference from a Canadian provision, would state that privileged information collected inadvertently could not be used in any way unless necessary to ensure a fair trial in future proceedings.

'Our intention will be to give statutory confirmation to the common law position,' Mr Ying said.

He said if a lawyer was involved in a criminal offence, he might be subject to covert surveillance.

But Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah said installing a bugging device in a lawyer's office would infringe upon other clients' rights to confidential legal advice.

'You will be encroaching on others' legal privilege, and have no grounds to do that,' he said.

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Lau Kong-wah asked how the government could ensure that privileged information collected inadvertently was not used by law enforcement agents.