Surveillance and RIPA: Radio 4 discussion

I took part in what will hopefully prove to be an interesting discussion of surveillance and RIPA in an episode of Clive Anderson’s “Unreliable Evidence” that will be broadcast at 8pm today on Radio 4 (and available on the iplayer thereafter). The show was recorded prior to the recent leaks regarding US surveillance activities, and so focuses on the UK perspective. The other panel members were Eric Metcalfe (former director of human rights policy at Justice, now a barrister at Monckton Chambers) and solicitor Simon McKay.

Ben Hooper

Surveillance: RIPA and the Communications Data Bill

The Communications Data Bill, shelved amid political heavy weather, is back on the agenda in the wake of last week’s Woolwich murder. Today for example, Conservative MP and former policing minister Nick Herbert wrote an article in The Times in support of the Bill and responding to those who have called it a ‘snooper’s charter’.

One of the more detailed critiques of Mr Herbert’s article came from Big Brother Watch. Part of its argument was that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) already provides for necessary surveillance – indeed, RIPA goes further because, unlike the Communications Data Bill, it allows for the actual content of communications to be intercepted in appropriate circumstances

Big Brother Watch’s article noted, however, problems with the use of intercept evidence in criminal trials. As regards the admissibility of surveillance resulting in the recording of conversations however, a very recent Court of Appeal judgment brings good news.

Turner v R [2013] EWCA Crim 642 concerned an appeal against a murder conviction. The evidence included extracts from some 300 hours’ worth of conversations which had been recorded as part of an intrusive surveillance operation authorised under RIPA.

The single ground of appeal against conviction arose from the rejection by Dobbs J of the submission that the indictment should be stayed as an abuse of process arising from the use of intrusive covert surveillance in the appellant’s home; alternatively, that the evidence derived from that surveillance was unfairly admitted in evidence, when it should have been excluded under s.78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

The Court of Appeal dismissed these arguments. It had particular regard to the importance of respecting legal professional privilege when gathering evidence through covert means.

The Lord Chief Jusitce concluded that (paragraph 28):

“The surveillance was lawful. The relevant disclosure took place. The record of incriminating conversations was unchallenged. We understand that there may be extreme cases in which the prosecuting authorities (using the words in a comprehensive way) may interfere so significantly with the legal privilege of a defendant that the very integrity of the administration of justice may be undermined. That, however, did not happen here. Lawful covert surveillance produced damaging evidence against all three defendants. The process worked lawfully: any flaws were minor and short, and inconsequential”.

As to admissibility, he said this (paragraph 30):

“The only unfairness was that the appellant chose to say the things that he did because he did not realise that they were being recorded. The object of covert surveillance of the kind deployed in this case was to discover the truth, and, the evidence of what the appellant said about the death of the deceased was put before the jury while anything containing even a whisper of conversations protected by legal privilege was excluded. That was not unfair.”

Those arguing that RIPA is a fit-for-purpose surveillance tool will no doubt find support in this judgment.

Robin Hopkins

Important developments in surveillance law: RIPA and CCTV

Important changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 come into force from 1 November 2012, thanks to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2012, passed last week. This is an extremely important development for local authorities.

Local authorities are empowered under RIPA to use three surveillance techniques: directed surveillance, the deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) and accessing communications data. Early in its term, the Coalition government indicated that it would impose additional safeguards on local authorities’ use of such powers, responding in part to concerns aired by Big Brother Watch and others (see our post here and the recent ‘Grim RIPA’ report here). Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 Act amended RIPA so as to require local authorities to obtain the approval of a magistrate for any authorisation for the use of a covert investigatory technique.

The procedure for obtaining judicial approval may be much like that involved in obtaining search warrants. It remains to be seen how magistrates scrutinise the reasoning and evidence supporting an authorisation so as to ensure that the conditions laid down by RIPA – in particular, necessity and proportionality – are satisfied. Ibrahim Hasan has discussed the changes in his Local Government Lawyer piece here.

Last week also saw a second important announcement on surveillance. The government has announced that it is busy with preparatory work on a new CCTV code of practice, with the aim of consulting on the draft code over the autumn and bringing the new one into force in April 2013. Authorities specified in s. 33(5) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 have a duty to have regard to the code, and other system operators will be encouraged to adopt it on a voluntary basis.

The Home Office Minister, Jeremy Browne MP, told the House of Commons last week that the government is “committed to ensuring that any deployment in public places of surveillance cameras, including close circuit television (CCTV) and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), is appropriate, proportionate, transparent and effective in meeting its stated purpose”.

Oversight of – and independent recommendations about – the new code will fall to Andrew Rennison, who will remain in post as both surveillance camera commissioner and forensic science regulator until February 2014.

If one adds the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, also passed last week (see my post here), this is clearly a time of great flux in terms of the information law landscape for local authorities in particular.

Robin Hopkins

Launch of Information Law Reports

 The Information Law Reports launched on 14 July 2011, with the following announcement on 11KBW’s website:

Leading chambers 11KBW and legal publisher Justis Publishing are collaborating in a first for both organisations: the creation of a new series of law reports available both in bound volumes from next week and on the established Justis platform from this morning.

Information law is ever more important, seeking to balance the “right to know” and the “right to be left alone” in an age of massive databases and global information flows. We all want to protect our own privacy; but we also want to understand how public authorities make decisions and spend our money. This new series will help professionals grapple with these issues.

Timothy Pitt-Payne QC, a barrister at 11KBW and one of the editors of the new reports, said: “There is a growing case-law, generated by the specialist Information Rights Tribunal and the higher courts. Navigating this material and quickly identifying the most important recent developments is increasingly challenging. The Information Law Reports seek to meet this need, bringing together all the most important cases in a single source. 11KBW are delighted to be working with Justis on this much-needed project.

Masoud Gerami, Managing Director of Justis Publishing, said: “We have had a number of significant milestones in our 25-year history, mostly associated with innovation and developments which have changed legal information dissemination for the better. I am delighted that another milestone has been added to our list of achievements by producing the new series of Information Law Reports in association with 11KBW, the leaders in this increasingly important field. I believe that the complementary nature of the expertise from the partners in this project is the ideal requirement for any successful product or service, and we look forward to a continued relationship with 11KBW.”

He added: “This is also the first time that Justis Publishing has produced a product in hard copy, and we are very excited about the possibilities that the combination of hard copy and online versions will present.

For further information, please call +44 (0)20 7267 8989 or email


The Investigatory Powers Tribunal today issued its decision in the first substantive public case on the use of surveillance powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Poole Borough Council suspected that Jenny Paton and her family may have lied about living in the catchment area of a sought-after primary school in Dorset. It therefore monitored their activity for around 3 weeks in 2008. This included covertly monitoring the movements of family members and their car, as well as examining the contents of their rubbish.

The IPT found that:

(1) investigating a potentially fraudulent school application was not a proper purpose in the sense required by RIPA;
(2) in these circumstances, the Council’s actions were in any event disproportionate, in that they were not necessary to achieve that aim, and
(3) the Council’s actions had breached the family’s rights under Article 8 of the ECHR.

Poole Borough Council has accepted the ruling and apologised to Ms Paton and her family.


This week the Supreme Court handed down an important judgment on the jurisdictional scope of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT): R (on the application of A) v B [2009] UKSC 12. The case involved a former spy, ‘A’, who wished to publish a manuscript relating to the successes, failures and recruiting techniques of MI5. MI5 had refused to authorise the publication of certain elements of the manuscript under the Official Secrets Act 1989. A subsequently brought a claim for judicial review in the administrative court challenging MI5’s decision. The claim was advanced in particular on the basis that MI5’s refusal breached A‘s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The claim was resisted on the basis that, under s. 65 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), it was the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) which had exclusive jurisdiction to hear any challenge made against MI5’s decision, irrespective of whether or not that challenge was made under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). A’s claim for judicial review was allowed at first instance. In summary, Collins J held that the High Court exercised jurisdiction in respect of the claim in parallel with the IPT ([2008] 4 All ER 511). Collins J’s judgment was subsequently overturned by a majority of the Court of Appeal ([2009] 3 WLR 717). The Supreme Court has now unanimously upheld the Court of Appeal’s majority judgment. In essence, the Supreme Court held that:


  • the wording of s. 65 RIPA should be construed broadly so as to ensure that, where decisions of this nature were in issue, they should be heard by the IPT, even if they embraced challenges brought under the HRA;


  • the fact that s. 65 operated to oust the jurisdiction which the ordinary courts would otherwise have to hear a human rights challenge was not objectionable on constitutional grounds (i.e. it did not constitute an unlawful ouster). In particular, the ouster of jurisdiction embodied in s. 65 was lawful because: (a) it had been provided for in clear terms under the relevant legislation; and (b) it did not operate to prevent judicial scrutiny of the particular decision but instead merely ensured that that scrutiny was conducted by the IPT;


  • the mere fact that the IPT procedures were more secretive than those which would apply in the ordinary courts did not mean that there would be any breach of A’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR. The use of such procedures could be justified in view of the fact that determination of A’s claim would entail consideration of information which raised issues of national security. (It was noted in the judgment that an application to the ECtHR is currently pending on the question of whether certain of the IPT rules breach various articles of the Convention, including articles 6, 8 and 10).


The judgment is likely to be seen as controversial in certain quarters, not least because the secretive nature of the IPT process is regarded by many as being inherently unjust. 11KBW’s Jason Coppel appeared on behalf of B before the Supreme Court.  See further my post on the recent application of the IPT process to a surveillance procedure applied by a local authority.