A convicted killer has launched a High Court bid to secure assurances that his prison visits are not being subjected to covert surveillance.

Louis Maguire, who is serving a 24-year sentence for shooting his wife’s former lover, wants a guarantee that conversations with her are not being monitored in secret.

The 44-year-old is being held at Maghaberry Prison while awaiting an appeal against his conviction for the murder of David Barnes in March 2003.

Mr Barnes (39) was shot in the head as he lay in bed beside his girlfriend at his flat offf the Antrim Road in north Belfast.

Maguire, formerly of Newtownards, was on home leave while serving a prison sentence for robbery at the time of the killing.

Opening an application for leave to seek a judicial review yesterday, his barrister told the court that evidence gathered from previous covert surveillance had then been used at trial against Maguire.

“There is interference with the right to privacy and family life because visits from family members may be monitored,” Barry Macdonald QC said.

The case now hinges on a decision on whether it should proceed at the High Court or be determined by a tribunal set up under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to examine issues involving the intelligence services.

Mr Macdonald argued that because the case was being brought against the Prison Service it should remain a judicial review application.

“Mr Maguire is not making a complaint about conduct in the past,” he said.

“He knows from his experience certain things have happened in the past and he is now seeking an assurance these things will not happen in the future.”

According to the barrister the case was now about a question of law.

Peter Coll, for the Prison Service, argued that even if the court held that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal did not have exclusive jurisdiction it would still provide an effective alternative remedy.

Mr Coll also said the legal challenge was academic because, under prison rules, all visits should take place within hearing of warders.

“It’s difficult to see where the application on covert surveillance comes into play,” he said.

“There is a clear, specific right on the part of the prison authorities to be right there openly.”

Mr Justice Treacy reserved his initial ruling on the jurisdictional issue as to whether the case should be heard in court or at a tribunal.

Following the hearing Maguire’s solicitor, Fearghal Shiels of Madden and Finucane, said the privacy issues at stake were crucial.

“The potential implications for this defendant and future defendants are enormous as such assurances, if denied, would controvert the protections afforded by article 8 of the European Convention,” he said.