Legislators outraged at breaches of the Basic Law, but the ICAC says such eavesdropping is sometimes justified The Independent Commission Against Corruption admitted yesterday it had been eavesdropping on people suspected of corruption and their lawyers for years. The admission sparked outrage from legislators, who insisted the ICAC has been flouting the Basic Law and disregarding basic human rights in its efforts to catch lawyers and clients involved in unlawful acts - a view shared by judges in recent cases for which the anti-graft body has been criticised. ICAC commissioner Raymond Wong Hong-chiu told legislators at a security panel meeting his agency and the Security Bureau were undertaking a wide-ranging review to ensure all its procedures and operational methods complied with the Basic Law. The anti-graft body's surveillance methods have been severely criticised by judges in recent cases. In one case the judge told the investigators their taping of a lawyer and his client's discussion violated legal protection privilege and the Basic Law. The ICAC and Department of Justice are applying for a judicial review of the case. Mr Wong insisted his agents did not record such discussions on a regular basis, saying: 'We and other law enforcement agencies fully respect the legal profession privilege' which accords total confidentiality to dialogue between barristers and solicitors and their clients. However, he added: 'We have produced such evidence to the courts and the courts in many cases accepted this evidence.' Daniel Li Ming-chak, the ICAC's head of operations, said: 'If we are conducting an investigation, we will put a lawyer and client under surveillance if a criminal matter is involved. If a certain lawyer is involved in corruption or bribery we will consider doing it.' Demanding to know why the six- to 12-month review of procedures would take so long, legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said: 'The handover was eight years ago. Why is it only now you are looking if the standing orders are in full compliance with the Basic Law?' 'We tend to err on the side of caution,' Mr Li said, adding it would take several months of legal advice to ascertain if all standing orders complied with the Basic Law. Panel chairman James To Kun-sun advised him to hire extra lawyers. The meeting was called to look into the sudden resignation of the ICAC's third-ranked officer, Gilbert Chan Yak-shing, who left the agency last week. Legislators wanted to know if Mr Chan had left because of low morale in the agency or because of pressure by the central government on Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to 'tidy up' the ICAC. Mr Wong said Mr Chan had written to legislators to explain he had left for personal reasons. It is understood he plans to work as legal counsel for a large company but Mr Wong said he had not yet received any application from Mr Chan, who was the director of investigations (government sector) of the ICAC's operations department, to take up a position in the private sector. Legislators also quizzed the ICAC on staffing levels, which currently stand at 1,228 officers. Mr Wong said the agency was short of 60 officers, saying recruitment drives were underway. He said the agency's budget had been cut by $65 million in the past five years.