CAMPAIGNERS have accused the Scottish Legal Aid Board of making a “political” decision by rejecting a legal aid application on an inquiry into undercover policing in Scotland.

Tilly Gifford, who exposed an attempt by police to infiltrate her environmental group, last year won the right to challenge the failure of the Scottish and UK Governments to launch a probe into the so-called “spy cop” scandal.

However, the Scottish Legal Aid Board has declined to support her funding bid on the grounds it would be “unreasonable”. This is in spite of legal aid being granted to pursue a similar case in Northern Ireland.

A judge-led inquiry is looking at the discredited practices of two undercover units, now disbanded, that were run by the Met in London.

Officers in the units were embedded into peaceful protest groups, tricked women they were spying on into sexual relationships and, in at least one case, a policeman got a female victim pregnant.

However, the judge-led probe only applies to undercover activity in England and Wales and excludes Scotland and Northern Ireland, a decision made by the UK Government.

In 2009 Gifford, an environmental justice campaigner, was targeted by undercover officers in Glasgow who were interested in a group opposed to airport expansion. She was asked to betray her friends by passing on information in exchange for tip-off fees.

However, not only did she decline the offer, but she recorded the exchanges with the secret policemen and passed the evidence to a newspaper. To this day, it is still unclear which force employed the unnamed officers.


Picture: Gifford

Michael Matheson, the Justice Secretary, directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to carry out a “review” of undercover policing since 2000, but the exercise fell short of the full-scale inquiry demanded by campaigners.

Gifford went to the Court of Session last year to challenge the UK and Scottish Governments over the lack of an inquiry and won the right to seek a judicial review.

However, judicial reviews are costly and Gifford’s legal team believes that pursuing this option could cost around £30,000. She submitted a legal aid application and was hopeful of a positive result.

In its response, dated December 13th, the SLAB rejected the application:

“It is not considered that the prospects of success are such as to show there is a strong possibility of success and that a private client, when assessing the issue of whether to fund expensive and potentially risky litigation, would not instead choose to await the outcome of the HMICS review in Scotland.”

HMICS submitted its review to Ministers in November, but no publication date has been confirmed by the Government.

The SLAB also questioned the breaches of human rights that Gifford and her legal team alleged had been perpetrated over the years:

“The breaches are not adequately specified in the application. The basis for arguing that Articles of ECHR have been breached are not set out in cogent terms to show that this is the case.”

It is understood Gifford is seeking a review of the decision.

Jason Kirkpatrick, who was also targeted by undercover police, has been granted legal aid to pursue a judicial review in Northern Ireland.

He said: "A Belfast judge granted me full legal aid over a year ago which has covered the cost of my three person legal team which includes a London based QC. Now my full judicial review is about to be heard by the Belfast High Court. I'm completely stunned that our even stronger case in Scotland hasn't even had legal aid approval.”

Gifford said: “Through the Pitchford Inquiry, communities in Wales and England who have suffered extreme abuses have the potential to have light shed on these sexual, emotional and physical violations carried out by the state. Yet, as it stands now, people in Scotland have no such recourse to truth or accountability. We also know that the Police were involved with Blacklisting, affecting the work and livelihood of countless individuals in Scotland – they also deserve access to the truth”.

Paul Heron, a lawyer at the Public Interest Law Unit who is advising Gifford, said: “Since the case was granted permission to proceed, in a hearing in September 2017, the SLAB has again refused Tilly legal aid – this appears to be entirely political – particularly in view of the fact that the Scottish courts have determined the case to have sufficient merit and granted permission to proceed to a full judicial review hearing.”

A spokesperson for the SLAB said: “There is no political interference in our application process. Decisions on legal aid applications are governed by published legislation and policies. The decision to refuse this application was based on these and taken by a committee of our Board, which includes people with backgrounds in business, the advice sector and the wider community as well as solicitors and advocates.

“If an application for civil legal aid is refused at first instance, then an applicant has a right to seek a review of that decision.”