Home Office mulls plan for dedicated team of judges
BRITAIN could get dedicated "terror judges" to oversee court cases where intercepted phone calls would be used against people accused of terrorism.
Creating "examining magistrates" like those who run cases in France and other continental countries would mark a fundamental change in British law.
It is one of two options understood to be being studied by a confidential Home Office review of "intercept" evidence, due to report to ministers by the end of the year.
The final recommendations of the review group will help determine what proposals the government brings forward in its terrorism bill early next year.
Intercepted or "tapped" phone conversations cannot be legally admitted to court under current rules and the possible use of such material is intensely controversial within Whitehall.
Advocates say using the material could help secure more convictions against terrorists and reduce the need for control orders and other non-judicial penalties imposed on some suspects. Sceptics, including senior intelligence chiefs, worry the move could allow defence lawyers to request numerous transcripts of intercepted calls, placing an impossible administrative burden on the already over-stretched security agencies.
Almost every terrorist surveillance operation generates hundreds of hours of intercepted conversations, which some fear could be used in "fishing expeditions" by defence lawyers.
However, John Reid, the Home Secretary, has appeared sceptical about the proposals.
Last month he appeared to cast doubt on intercept evidence, telling MPs using wire-tap material would not be "a magic bullet" against terrorism.
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