Census Legislation Compatible with Human Rights Act, Rules High Court

13 Jul 2012

In a judgment handed down today in the case of R(MA and SJ) v. Cabinet Office and Statistics Board, Mr Justice Beatson has rejected a challenge brought by two individuals to the legislation governing the UK census.  The individuals, one of whom was a refugee, argued that the legislation infringed their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (dealing with privacy) since it permitted disclosure of census returns to foreign governments for the purpose of criminal investigations or proceedings.  They sought a declaration that the legislation was incompatible with Article 8.  One of the individuals had refused to complete a census return and maintained that the claimed infringement of Article 8 gave him a defence to prosecution for failure to make a return.

The High Court rejected the individuals’ claims.  It agreed with the Government’s submissions that the Data Protection Act 1998, the Statistics Board’s policy of resisting disclosure save where ordered by a court, and the obligation on the Board to act consistently with Convention rights, together provided sufficient protection of census data to comply with Article 8.  It also rejected the claimants’ arguments that the census legislation infringed the EU Data Protection and Asylum Directives.

The judgment is likely to put to rest attempts by a number of individuals prosecuted for non-completion of census returns to mount a “human rights” defence based on a claimed infringement of Article 8.

George Peretz acted for the successful Government departments.

To read the full judgment, please click here.