Do Young Thugs have Human Rights? The Supreme Court has a Riot

Following a period of considered reflection, or laziness depending on one’s view, it is worth noting the decision of the Supreme Court in In the matter of an application by JR38 for Judicial Review [2015] UKSC 42. The case is all about Article 8 ECHR, and is of particular interest because of the dispute about the breadth of the correct test for the engagement of Article 8. The context is also one which will be familiar to English data protection and privacy lawyers: the publication by the police of photographs seeking to identify a suspect. If anyone remembers that famous picture of a youth in a hoodie pointing his fingers like a gun behind an awkward looking David Cameron, JR38 is basically that, but with Molotov cocktails and a sprinkling of sectarian hatred.

In JR38, the suspect in question was a 14 year child whose photograph was published by the PSNI as someone involved in rioting in an area of Derry in 2010 which had particular sectarian tensions. The judgment of Lord Kerr makes clear that JR38 has by no means been a well-behaved young man before or since the riots of 2010. Moreover, and amusingly, it is apparent that he and his father failed to correctly identify his own appearance in pictures published, and originally sued on the basis of images which did not show JR38 at all. However, a correct image was eventually alighted upon.

The judgments contain a lengthy and detailed discussion of the domestic and Strasbourg case law on the engagement of Article 8, but there was a 3-2 split in the Court between the correct approach. Lords Toulson and Clarke (with both of whom Lord Hodge agreed) considered that the overwhelming approach of the existing domestic law was to apply the touchstone of the reasonable/legitimate expectation of privacy test: see Lord Toulson at [87]-[88]. The test (originating, of course, in Campbell) focuses on “the sensibilities of a reasonable person in the position of the person who is the subject of the conduct complained about…If there could be no reasonable expectation of privacy, or legitimate expectation of protection, it is hard to see how there could nevertheless be a lack of respect for their article 8 rights”. The warning in Campbell not to bleed justification matters into the engagement analysis was stressed.

The difference between the majority and minority of Lord Kerr (with whom Lord Wilson agreed) was explained by Lord Clarke at [105]. Does the reasonable expectation of privacy test provide the only touchstone? The majority thought that it did, it being the only test set out clearly in the cases, and it being a broad objective concept to applied in all the circumstances of the case and having regard to the underlying values involved, unconcerned with the subjective expectation of the individual, be they child or adult (see at [98] per Lord Toulson and [109] per Lord Clarke).

In essence, the majority did not consider this context to be one which Article 8 was designed to protect. The identification of a suspect was not within the scope of personal autonomy, although publication of the same picture for a different purpose, other than identification, might be: at [98] (and at [112] where Lord Clarke did not consider the mere fact of criminal activity took the matter outside Article 8). Historic or re-published photos may alter the situation: at [101].

By contrast, Lord Kerr took a broader view, holding that the reasonable expectation of privacy test might be the ‘rule of thumb’, but could not be an inflexible, wholly determinative test. The scope of Article 8 was much broader and was contextual, requiring consideration of factors such as: age, consent, stigmatisation, the context of the photographed activity and the use of the image. Reasonable expectation of privacy failed, in his view, to allow for these factors to be considered: at [56]. Rather than shoehorning such factors into the test, they should bear on the issue in a free-standing footing: at [61]. The focus must be on the publication – i.e. the infringement – rather than the activity the photo displays. For Lord Kerr, the fact that JR38 was a child, taken with the potential effect publication might have on the life of the child, was more than sufficient to engage Article 8 (in the way that it might not for an adult): at [65]-[66].

The debate is an interesting one, but there is a very strong chance that the flexibility of the majority orthodox approach is likely to mean very little difference in substance between the two. It will, however, be worth emphasising the importance of context, particularly in child cases under Article 8.

The Court was, however, unanimous in agreeing that publication was justified in any event; rioters had to be identified (and other methods had been tried internally first), with the peril in which inter-community harmony was placed being particularly important in the fair balance.

Where, readers of this blog might ask, was the DPA in all this namby-pamby human rights discussion? Why is there no mention of schedules and data protection principles and all the other black letter statutory stuff that so gets the blood pumping? Well, it was mentioned, at [70], by Lord Kerr who considered that compliance with the DPA would mean that the limb of proportionality which requires the act to be in accordance with the law would be met. In very brief reasoning, Lord Kerr concluded that this type of case was within section 29 because publication was processing for the purposes of prevention and detection of crime, and that the relevant condition met in both Schedule 2 and 3 (because he agreed it was clearly sensitive personal data) was that of the processing being necessary for the administration of justice. Unfortunately, there was no analysis of the way in it was necessary for the administration of justice, or the extent to which this is the same as the prevention and detection of crime. Nor is it quite the same reasoning as adopted by Lord Woolf CJ in the well-known ‘naming and shaming’ case of R (Ellis) v Chief Constable of Essex Police [2003] EWHC 1321 (Admin), which, at [29], appeared to apply the conditions in Schedules 2 and 3 whereby processing was necessary for the performance of functions by or under any enactment (without further specification). Where the Supreme Court speaks, we follow, but it might have been helpful to detail this aspect a little more, although it is another example of a case in which Article 8 is presumed to do all of the work and the DPA be raced through in a paragraph to avoid having to think about it too much. That Article 8 and the DPA are ensured to be pulling in the same direction is, however, a relief to us all.

 Christopher Knight