It’s time to overhaul the Investigatory Powers Bill

By Cian C. Murphy and Natasha Simonsen

This morning, the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill issued a 200-page report on the draft new law. It’s the next step in the scrutiny of a foundational piece of UK national security law – capabilities and safeguards on internet surveillance. The Report is remarkable and comprehensive work – not least because it was done in a few short months. The Committee has made no fewer than 86 recommendations for how the Bill can be improved.

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Press restrictions may continue after trial in the interests of national security

HH Keith Hollis discusses the Judgment of the Court of Appeal in Guardian News and Media Ltd v R & Erol Incedal


Terrorism has brought many changes in the ways in which we go about our lives. Many of these are quite minor, irritating but generally sensible. The holding of trials where much of the evidence is kept secret is not minor, and in principle must be considered an outrage rather than an irritant. But there are clearly occasions when this has to happen, and it is a great challenge to those who on the one hand have responsibility for preventing terrorism and those on the other hand responsible for ensuring that justice has been done. 

The Lord Chief Justice, supported by Lady Justice Hallett and Lady Justice Sharp, supported Mr Justice Nicol’s dismissal of applications made by The Guardian and other media organisations that reporting restrictions applied during the trial of Erol Incedal be varied so as to permit the publication of reports of most, if not all, of what took place during hearings held in private, but in the presence of accredited journalists.

Readers may recall that Mr. Incedal had been subject to two trials on charges relating to terrorism. He was convicted at the first trial on one count (possessing a document containing information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism contrary to section 58(1)(b) of the Terrorism Act 2000), but acquitted of a more serious count following a retrial. He was sentenced to 42 months imprisonment.

There had been reporting restrictions from the outset. After a pre-trial hearing, a differently constituted Court of Appeal had directed that the trial should have three elements: part would be open; part could be attended by nominated and approved journalists, but without taking notes (and indeed significant steps taken to ensure that there were none); and finally part in camera). Nicol J, who now found himself with the burden of actually conducting such a trial, had originally ordered that the whole trial should be in camera.

The first point of note is the nature of the appeal (and indeed the earlier appeal). As the Lord Chief Justice made clear, referring to Ex p The Telegraph Group, “it is the duty of an appeal court, when considering issues relating to open justice as an appellate court, not simply to review the decision of the judge, but to come to its own independent decision.”

The presently constituted Court of Appeal was concerned about the nature of the earlier decision of the Appeal Court. They paid “an especial tribute to the way in which this trial was managed by the trial judge in consequence of the order” and his making of “the very difficult decisions which arose with conspicuous skill and ability”, coming to “the firm conclusion that a court should hesitate long and hard before it makes an order similar to that made by this court on 4 June 2014, given the unexpected effect it had on the conduct of the trial”. As it happened significantly more evidence was given in open hearings than had been anticipated, and without the need for judicial intervention. An indication of the professionalism and concern of the advocates and those instructing them.

The present appeal was dismissed as, having read the relevant evidence, the Court was “quite satisfied….. for reasons which we can only provide in a closed annex to this judgment that a departure from the principles of open justice was strictly necessary if justice was to be done” and that “because of the nature of that evidence those reasons continue to necessitate a departure from the principle of open justice after the conclusion of the trial and at the present time”.

The judgment acknowledges the loss of the “watchdog function” of the press, and says that public accountability now has to be left to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. To which it could be added that the relevant material has now been considered by the two relevant Secretaries of State, the DPP, the trial Judge, and it seems six Court of Appeal judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, who have all, albeit with different roles, come to the same regrettable conclusion as to the nature of the material that remains unreported. Indeed even the media seems to have accepted that some of the material at least should be kept out of the public domain.

Much of the real interest in this judgment will be in the analysis of the different constitutional responsibilities respectively of the executive in the form of the relevant Secretaries of State, the DPP, and of course the roles of Counsel and the trial judge.

Independence is the watchword. The DPP has to be independent of the executive so that she can exercise her own judgement firstly as to whether or not to bring a prosecution, and secondly whether or not to bring an application to the Court for the openness of the proceedings to be limited in some way (normally in camera).

But it is for the Court to “determine whether the evidence in issue should be heard in camera by consideration of the nature of the evidence”. The matter cannot be determined on the basis of an implicit threat not to prosecute: “the proper approach of the court is to examine the nature of the evidence and to determine the effect of hearing it in public. Deciding the issue on the basis that the DPP might not continue with the prosecution does not satisfy the test of necessity. In effect, it transfers the decision on whether to depart from the principle of open justice to the DPP”.

If the court rejects a submission for the withholding of material, and the DPP decides that the trial should still go ahead, the Court stressed that:

“the Executive cannot then refuse to provide the evidence required by the DPP on the basis that it perceives that it is not in the interests of national security to provide it. The court has made its decision and the Executive must abide by it… If the DPP decides on continuation, then the Executive must give the prosecution its full cooperation and assistance”.

Two procedural matters are of interest. Firstly a recommendation that Judges in such cases involving national security may on occasion need to be provided with the assistance of independent counsel if requested. The other is in a concluding observation that there was no mechanism for retention of closed Judgments, and that there should be. An obvious point perhaps, but one that raises interesting issues as to how such closed Judgments are later accessed, or even known about.

At the end of the day Mr. Incedal was acquitted of the more serious charge. There was a judge, a jury, counsel and solicitors, a number of observing, albeit constrained, journalists, an appeal procedure, and doubtless a recording of the proceedings. In respect of the reporting restrictions, these were considered twice by the Court of Appeal. It would be too easy, and inaccurate, just to dismiss this as “secret” justice.

Cavalier with our Constitution: a Charter too far.

Photo credit: Guardian

Marina Wheeler

Last week Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, tabled a set of proposals which the government hopes will form the basis of the UK’s renegotiated relationship with the EU, in advance of an in-out referendum. Politically, the proposals may be just the job: a new commitment to enhance competitiveness, proposals to limit benefits to migrants, recognition that member states’ different aspirations for further integration must be respected, and creation of a (“red card”) mechanism to block EU legislation. Legally, however, they raise more questions than they answer.

My thesis is this: the reach of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg has extended to a point where the status quo is untenable. Aside from eroding national sovereignty, which it does, the current situation also undermines legal certainty, which in turn undermines good governance.

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The round-up: Gove’s Gloss and the Assange Saga



In the News

The UN working group on arbitrary detention have concluded that the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by Britain and Sweden in the Ecuadorian Embassy for the last three and a half years. In particular, the working group considered that Mr Assange had not been guaranteed a fair trial, in violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Articles 9, 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They have called on Britain and Sweden to end Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation – which all seems rather steep for someone who has in effect used the Embassy “as a safe haven to avoid arrest” – in the words of the dissenting member of the working group, Ukrainian lawyer Vladimir Tochilovsky.

Julian Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 after the UK Supreme Court rejected his appeal against a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Swedish prosecution authority for rape and sexual assault allegations. He has remained there since, now claiming the UN opinion marks a “sweet victory” – but which the UK and Sweden have flatly rejected, on the basis that only one detaining Assange there is Assange himself.

Joshua Rozenberg answers the question on everyone’s minds – how did the UN get it so wrong? The definition the panel gave for Assange’s “arbitrary detention” was that “non observance … of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial … is of such gravity as to give the detention an arbitrary character”. Of course, such a definition of arbitrary detention presumes detention in the first place – which in this case, was self-confinement in the Embassy.

Tochilovsky, the lone dissent on the panel, was the only one to make the point that “fugitives are often self-confined within the places they evade arrest and detention” and “self-confinement cannot be considered places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the working group”. Continue reading

Is the European Court of Human Rights buckling under Westminister pressure?

22527865148_e67eb8c7df_bIn 2006 David Cameron said the HRA ‘has stopped us responding properly in terms of terrorism, particularly in terms of deporting those who may do us harm in this country’. In 2014 his party published proposals to amend the HRA, and to withdraw from the Convention.

Readers of this blog won’t need reminding that the media has robustly criticized the ECtHR:

“The Court has never, in its 50-year history, been subject to such a barrage of hostile criticism as that which occurred in the United Kingdom in 2011 Over the years certain governments have discovered that it is electorally popular to criticise international courts such as the Strasbourg court: they are easy targets, particularly because they tend, like all courts, not to answer back.”[2]

In the last four years there were some 80 judgments where the UK was the respondent and in about 40 of those cases one or more violations were found.  This does not seem to be particularly (statistically) out of step with previous periods.  However do the key cases suggest the widening of the margin of appreciation for the UK?

Al-Khawaja  Continue reading

The Rule of Law and Parliament: Never the Twain Shall Meet? Brian Chang

Vintage Balance Scale

Vintage Balance Scale

In “The Ballad of East and West”, Rudyard Kipling memorably wrote

East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.

Is this an accurate description of the rule of law and Parliament? Is the rule of law a matter best left to lawyers, judges and courts, or do politicians and Parliament also have a role to play in upholding the rule of law, by holding the Government to account over rule of law violations, and ensuring that proposed legislation do not offend the principles of the rule of law?

A new Bingham Centre report published today makes a valuable contribution as the first ever, but hopefully not the last, empirical study on the rule of law in Parliament. By examining references to the rule of law over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 Parliamentary sessions in Parliamentary debates, parliamentary questions and written statements, using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, the report aims to improve our understanding of how the rule of law has been used in Parliament. Continue reading

Examination of child witnesses not in violation of Article 6

blogimage1Mark William Patrick MacLennan v Her Majesty’s Advocate, [2015] HCJAC 128 – Read judgment

The High Court has refused an appeal under Article 6 on the lack of effective cross-examination of child witness, but has provided interesting commentary on how such investigations could be better handled in future to meet Strasbourg standards.

 The Facts

The original charge concerned reports made against the appellant, the manager at a nursery in Fort William, from children alleging various forms of sexual contact. After initial allegations, joint investigation interviews (JIIs) were conducted between May and July 2013 with various children from the nursery. The value of some of the interviews was questioned by the High Court, with one described as “leading in the extreme” (paragraph 5), yet none were challenged by the defendant when presented as evidence during his trial. Continue reading