ARTICLE 8 CHALLENGE TO ENHANCED CRIMINAL RECORDS REGIME FAILS (AT FIRST INSTANCE)

February 10th, 2012 by Robin Hopkins

Yesterday, the High Court(Kenneth Parker J) gave judgment in R (T) v (1) Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, (2) Secretary of State for the Home Department (Secretary of State for Justice an interested party) [2012] EWHC 147 (Admin). The judgment is available here:  T_v_Greater_Manchester_Police.

In July 2002, the Claimant was 11 years old. He received a warning (a private procedure, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) from Greater Manchester Police for the theft of two bicycles. His subsequent conduct was apparently exemplary. By section 113B of the Police Act 1997, Enhanced Criminal Record Certificates (ECRCs) must contain all convictions, cautions and warnings. The Claimant, a 20-year old student applying for a sports studies course, obtained his ECRC in December 2010. It contained details of the bike theft warning.

He argued that the inflexible requirement under the 1997 Act for all convictions, cautions and warnings to be disclosed in ECRCs was incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR.

With overt reluctance, Kenneth Parker J dismissed the claim. His decision was based on the analysis of R (L) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2009] UKSC 3 [2010] 1 AC 410, where the majority of the Supreme Court decided that the disclosure of “information” (under s. 115(6) of the 1997 Act) potentially breached Article 8. Such a breach would be justified only if (a) the information is relevant to the decision for which the ECRC is required, and (b) disclosure is proportionate, taking into account factors such as the gravity of the material, the reliability of the information on which it was based, the relevance of the material to the particular job application, the period since the relevant events and the impact on the applicant of including the material in the ECRC.

The disclosure of “information” was, however, a separate matter from the disclosure of convictions, cautions and warnings. It was clear from L that, insofar as it required the latter, the 1997 Act was not open to challenge under Article 8.

Kenneth Parker J had great sympathy with the Claimant’s analogy with R (F) v Justice Secretary [2010] UKSC 17; [2011] 1 AC 331, in which the subjecting of the claimants to indefinite reporting requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was found to violate their rights under Article 8. As in F, the provisions under challenge in the present case provided for no reviews, and no exceptions. This caused the learned judge great concern. He observed that:

“… a system that allows no exceptions imposes a very heavy cost in terms of effect on the fundamental rights protected by Article 8 ECHR.  I am not persuaded that the marginal benefit that a system which admits no exceptions brings to, admittedly important, competing interests is justified as a matter of proportionality when the serious detrimental effects of such a system, particularly on child offenders, are weighed in the balance.  A system that permitted exceptions would probably be more prone to error, but only marginally so if the criteria for review were themselves conservative and risk averse.  The consequential improvement to the protection of Article 8 rights on the other hand, would be likely to be substantial.”

Nonetheless, his hands were tied by L: the requirement to disclose convictions, cautions and warnings did not violate Article 8. It may be a “bright line rule”, and arguably a harsh one, but the law has condoned such rules in other circumstances (see for example R (Animal Defenders International) v Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport [2008] 1 AC).

The Claimant also sought to challenge the lawfulness of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 – which removes, in certain circumstances, the protections concerning spent convictions. This claim failed for the same reasons. Kenneth Parker J added this notable observation:

“In these circumstances I do not believe that there is any real independent issue about the legality of the Order under Article 8 ECHR.  The conclusion must be the same.  However, I should perhaps add that the reverse argument does not necessarily apply.  In other words, even if it were disproportionate under Article 8 ECHR for the state to disclose, say, a warning long ago given to a child for a minor criminal matter, it would not automatically be an infringement if the state permitted a private employer to enquire about all criminal convictions, to insist on truthful answers and to take appropriate action in response to the answers given.”

The learned judge also observed that, if he had had to decide the issue of whether the state had a positive obligation in these circumstances, he would have found that it did not.

The claims were accordingly dismissed. However, given their general importance and Kenneth Parker J’s reluctant conclusions, he granted leave to appeal.

11KBW’s Jason Coppel appeared for the Secretaries of State.

Robin Hopkins

 

COMMERCIAL INFORMATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS – NEW TRIBUNAL DECISION

January 7th, 2011 by Anya Proops QC

Last month I blogged on a recent Tribunal decision which considered whether, following Veolia v Nottinghamshire CC [2010] EWCA 1214 (“Veolia”), human rights considerations had a role to play in FOIA/EIR  cases involving the potential disclosure of confidential commercial information – see my post on the decision in Staffordshire CC v IC & Sibelco here. This month the Tribunal has promulgated another decision on the issue: see Nottinghamshire CC v IC & Veolia & UK Coal Mining Ltd (EA/2010/0142). The Notts case was concerned with a request for disclosure of particular information contained in a waste management contract between the council and Veolia. The particular information in dispute before the Tribunal was information contained in a schedule to that contract. In essence, the schedule detailed the leasing arrangements under which the council had an option to lease certain land from UKCM. The intention was that, once the leasing option was exercised by the council, Veolia would take a sub-lease of the land and then would build and maintain an incinerator on the land for the purposes of discharging its waste management obligations under the contract.

Contrary to the position adopted by the Commissioner, the Tribunal took the view that, despite the fact that it formed part of an overarching waste management contract, the information in the schedule did not in itself amount to environmental information (i.e. as it was simply information relating to prospective commercial leasing arrangements); accordingly, disclosure of the disputed information fell to be considered under FOIA rather than EIR. The applicable FOIA exemption was the commercial interests exemption (s. 43).

The Tribunal went on in its decision to comment on the application of human rights principles to the appeal, those principles having been considered by the Court of Appeal in the Veolia case. In essence, the Tribunal appears to have held that: (a) following Veolia, valuable commercial information could constitute a ‘possession’ of UKCM under Article 1 of Protocol 1 ECHR; (b) that, if the disputed information amounted to a ‘possession’, then UKMC had a right to privacy in respect of that information under Article 8(1) ECHR and, accordingly (c) disclosure under FOIA of that information would only be lawful if it was justified for the purposes of Article 8(2) ECHR. However, having reached these conclusions, the Tribunal appears to have taken the view that in fact these human rights considerations did not add very much to the overall analysis under FOIA, particularly as the requirements of the Article 8(2) justification test were already effectively reflected in the public interest balancing exercise which was built into s. 2 FOIA (see para. 74 of the decision).

It remains to be seen whether those with an interest in avoiding disclosure of commercially sensitive information will seek to argue in other cases before the tribunal that human rights considerations do in fact alter the analysis of the public interest balance under FOIA and, in particular, that they increase the weight in favour of maintaining the s. 43 exemption.