The Investigatory Powers Tribunals (IPT) are the most secretive court cases in Britain. They are the only place you can go and complain if you think you’re being illegally spied on by MI5, MI6 or GCHQ, or even by the police or local government. The only time they’ve actually found against the authorities was when Poole Borough Council spied on a family to see if they were lying about which school catchment area they lived in. Of course before you can make a complaint you have to somehow know that you’re being secretly spied on, which is pretty tricky. Even if you do, the IPT most likely won’t grant you access to the evidence against you, give you the right to cross-examine anyone, let you appeal or even tell you what their reasoning was when they hand down their verdict. Sometimes they won’t even tell you whether you’ve won or not. Needless to say, they almost always meet behind closed doors.
That was until this year, when the IPT bowed to legal pressure and agreed to open its doors for a few select public hearings. Which is how I found myself, a couple of weeks ago, at the Rolls Building in Holborn, central London at 4:30PM on a dreary Wednesday afternoon.