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UK Home Office considers special judges to oversee terrorism wiretap cases

[JURIST] A confidential report on the use of wiretap evidence being prepared for UK government ministers by officials in the Home Office [official website] has as one of its two basic options setting up a special group of judges who would oversee wiretap-related cases against terror suspects, according to a report published in the Scotsman Monday. The UK has long disfavored the use of wiretapped phone conversations as evidence, and court rules ban their admission, but the threat of terrorism has caused some within the Home Office to advocate its use to reduce the need for extrajudicial control orders and other measures. Critics say allowing wiretap conversations as evidence would burden UK administrative offices by prompting a deluge of defense requests for wiretap transcripts. Lurking behind these concerns is the in-some-quarters-unsavory prospect of creating a class of investigative anti-terrorism judges along continental lines.

In the United States, federal wiretaps against suspected foreign intelligence agents must generally be approved by judges of the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [backgrounder], the proceedings and records of which are kept secret for security reasons. Much of the recent controversy about President Bush's warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive] against suspected terrorists revolves around its domestic operation outside the protections of FISC procedure. The Scotsman has more.

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