Investigatory Powers Act not ‘general and indiscriminate’, says Divisional Court

27 Apr 2018

The Divisional Court (Singh LJ and Holgate J) has today handed down judgment in judicial review proceedings brought by Liberty, challenging the lawfulness of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The case was identified by the Lawyer Magazine as one of its Top 20 Cases for 2018.

Today’s judgment concerns the compatibility with EU law of Part 4 of the 2016 Act, which contains a regime permitting the Home Secretary to require telecommunications operators to retain specified communications data (that is, data concerning matters such as the duration of telephone calls or emails, but not their content) for up to 12 months. The ability of public authorities to access such retained data can be of vital importance, for instance in criminal investigations.

Following the CJEU’s December 2016 judgment in Tele2/Watson, the Home Secretary had previously conceded that Part 4 of the 2016 Act is incompatible with EU law in two discrete respects, which are the subject of pending amendments to the legislation. The Divisional Court accepted the Home Secretary’s argument that the only appropriate relief in such circumstances was declaratory relief (including a declaration that the 2016 Act should be amended within a reasonable time), and that it was not appropriate to make an order disapplying the offending parts of the 2016 Act, as Liberty maintained.

Liberty also advanced a series of other EU law-based objections to Part 4 of the 2016 Act. These included an allegation that Part 4 is incompatible with EU law because it permits the ‘general and indiscriminate’ retention of communications data, amounting to a serious violation of privacy rights. Liberty contended that these matters should all be referred to the CJEU. However, the Divisional Court agreed with the Secretary of State that it should not make any reference to the CJEU, in some cases because it accepted the Government’s submission that the challenged aspect of the 2016 Act is compatible with EU law, and in other cases because the subject matter of Liberty’s complaint is already covered by a preliminary reference to the CJEU made by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The Divisional Court rejected Liberty’s argument that Part 4 of the 2016 Act permits the ‘general and indiscriminate’ retention of communications data. The Court found that there was no basis for such a complaint, given (among other matters) the statutory requirement for the Home Secretary to be satisfied that retention notices are necessary and proportionate.

Monckton Chambers’ Gerry Facenna QC and Michael Armitage, led by First Treasury Counsel, acted for the Secretary of State for the Home Department and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.