Two members of MI6 staff made an "inappropriate" attempt to intervene in legal proceedings involving two human rights organisations based in Northern Ireland, the head of a specialist tribunal has said.
They called the secretary to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which investigates complaints about Government intelligence agencies, and raised concern about reports provided to judges by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO), which authorises the use of investigatory powers by intelligence agencies.
IPT president Lord Justice Singh described what happened as "inappropriate" said an MI6 official had written to apologise.
Detail of the call, and subsequent correspondence, emerged at an IPT hearing in London yesterday. Four human rights groups - the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice, the Pat Finucane Centre in Londonderry, Privacy International and Reprieve - are involved in litigation with the Foreign Office, Home Office, Government Communications Headquarters, MI5 and MI6.
Last year the four groups asked the IPT to rule that a policy which allows MI5 to authorise informants to commit serious criminal offences was unlawful.
In December, the IPT ruled against them, and the four groups are challenging that decision in the Court of Appeal.
They also want an IPT ruling on how the tribunal's requests for information from IPCO should be dealt with.
Two MI6 staff contacted the IPT secretary in March 2019, Lord Justice Singh said. They said "various inspection reports" given to the IPT by IPCO should not have been provided and added that MI6 had "concerns on relation to the material".
The IPT secretary wrote to MI6 saying it was "inappropriate" for MI6 to seek to intervene in ongoing legal proceedings in such a way, and an MI6 official had apologised for "any misunderstanding".
"The direct communication which took place with the tribunal was inappropriate," said Lord Justice Singh at yesterday's hearing. An apology was given and it was clearly recognised that nothing like this should happen in the future. Everyone now recognises that something had gone wrong."
Reprieve director Maya Foa said: "MI6 was right to apologise." Reprieve later released, with the approval of the IPT, redacted copies of letters exchanged between the IPT and MI6, which is also known as the Secret Intelligence Service.