The UKHRB is grateful to Aileen McColgan QC for allowing us to republish her article, which originally appeared on Panoptican, a blog published by the barristers at 11KBW here.
The central question for the Supreme Court in Bloomberg v ZXC  UKSC 5 was, as Lords Hamblen and Stephens put it (with Lord Reeds, Lloyd-Jones and Sales agreeing): “whether, in general, a person under criminal investigation has, prior to being charged, a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation”. The short answer was “yes”.
The decision has been greeted with howls of indignation from Bloomberg but more muted responses from other sections of the press; whereas Bloomberg’s editor in chief released an editorial entitled “U.K. Judges Are Helping the Next Robert Maxwell” which stated that the judgment should “frighten every decent journalist in Britain”, the Financial Times and Guardian were more restrained, pointing out respectively that the decision would have “far-reaching implications for the British media” and would “make it harder for British media outlets to publish information about individuals subject to criminal investigations”. This is no doubt the case, but it is worth noting that the publication which gave rise to this decision was based on a highly confidential letter leaked to Bloomberg and occurred apparently without any consideration of ZXC’s privacy interests.
ZXC, regional CEO of a publicly listed company which operated overseas (“X Ltd”), sued for misuse of private information because of an article concerning X Ltd’s activities in a country for which ZXC’s division was responsible. The activities had been subject to a criminal investigation by a UK law enforcement body (“the UKLEB”) since 2013 and the article was based almost completely on a confidential Letter of Request sent by the UKLEB to the foreign state. ZXC claimed that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in information published in the Article, in particular in the details of the UKLEB investigation into himself, its assessment of the evidence, the fact that it believed that ZXC had committed specified criminal offences and its explanation of how the evidence it sought would assist its investigation into that suspected offending. ZXC’s application for damages and injunctive relief was upheld at first instance by Nicklin J and £25,000 awarded:  EWHC 970 (QB);  EMLR 20. Bloomberg’s appear was dismissed (see Panopticon post by Robin Hopkins and  EWCA Civ 611;  QB 28.
The pandemic has had a knock-on effect of increasing awareness of devolution. The governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been responsible for navigating the pandemic in their own countries, and the approaches taken have sometimes significantly diverged. With the COVID Regulations affecting the essentials of our daily lives, public attention across the UK has been drawn to the powers of devolved governments to govern differently from Westminster.
One surprising difference between the Welsh and UK Governments – and one that has evaded much public scrutiny – is that the Welsh Regulations created a new power of entry which allows police officers to enter people’s homes in certain circumstances to investigate breaches of the COVID Regulations. No such power has ever been included in the English Regulations, and the power of English police officers to enter people’s homes is more restricted, governed by the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (‘PACE’) and the common law rules for dealing with breaches of the peace.
The practical issues around the Welsh police power of entry to people’s homes have fallen into the background in recent months, because it mainly arises when there is or has been a suspected unlawful gathering in someone’s home. (Although on 26 December 2021, a new restriction was introduced banning gatherings of more than 30 in homes.) With restrictions hopefully easing again, reflecting on this regulation raises broader questions about human rights and legal scrutiny in Wales.
The focus of this judgment was on the jurisdiction, if any, that the High Court Family Division has to maintain a Reporting Restriction Order (‘RRO’) prohibiting the naming of any medical clinicians as being involved in the care and treatment of a child who had been the subject of “end of life” proceedings before the High Court prior to their death, and where an RRO had been made at that time preventing the identification of any of the treating clinicians and staff until further order.
Each of the children, Zainab Abbasi and Isaiah Haastrup, had been the subject of end of life proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, in which the issue was whether life-support should be withdrawn from them. Each of the two children died; Zainab Abbasi dying after the issue of proceedings but before the court could conduct a substantive adjudication, and Isaiah Haastrup dying following the removal of life-sustaining ventilation at the conclusion of a full legal process including an application to the Court of Appeal. In both cases, widely drawn RROs were made during the proceedings.
Spencer v Anderson (Paternity Testing)  EWHC 851 (Fam) – read judgment
A fascinating case in the Family Division throws up a number of facts that some may find surprising. One is that this is the first time the courts in this country have been asked to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish paternity. The other is that DNA is not covered by the Human Tissue Act, because genetic material does not contain human cells. One might wonder why the statute doesn’t, given that DNA is the instruction manual that makes the human tissue that it covers – but maybe updating the 2004 law to cover genetic material would create more difficulties than it was designed to resolve.
The facts can be briefly stated. The applicant had been made aware of his possible relationship to S, who had died of bowel cancer some years before. When S had presented with the disease, it turned out that there was a family history of such cancer. The hospital treating him therefore took a blood sample and extracted DNA from it to test for high-risk genes. If the applicant was the son of the deceased he would have a 50% risk of inherited predisposition to bowel cancer. This risk would be mitigated by biannual colonoscopies. Continue reading →
X & Anor v Z (Children) & Anor  EWCA Civ 34 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that it would not be lawful for DNA originally collected by the police to be used by a local authority for the purposes of a paternity test.
Factual and legal background
X’s wife had been found murdered. The police took DNA from the crime scene. Some of the DNA belonged to X’s wife and some was found to be X’s. X was tried and convicted of his wife’s murder.
X’s wife had young children and they were taken into the care of the local authority. During the care proceedings X asserted that he was the biological father of the children and said he wanted to have contact with them. He refused to take a DNA test to prove his alleged paternity. The local authority asked the police to make the DNA from the crime scene available so that it could be used in a paternity test. The police, with the support of the Home Secretary, refused on the grounds that they did not believe that it would be lawful to do so. Continue reading →
Liberty v Government Communications Headquarters ( IPT/13/77/H); Privacy International v FCO and others (IPT/13/92/CH); American Civil Liberties Union v Government Communications Headquarters (IPT/13/168-173/H); Amnesty International Ltd v The Security Service and others (IPT/13/194/CH); Bytes for All v FCO (IPT/13/204/CH), The Investigatory Powers Tribunal  UKIPTrib 13_77-, 5 December 2014 – read judgment
Robert Seabrook QC is on the panel of the IPT and David Manknell of 1 Crown Office acted as Counsel to the Tribunal in this case. They have nothing to do with the writing of this post.
This is a fascinating case, not just on the facts or merits but because it is generated by two of the major catalysts of public law litigation: the government’s duty to look after the security of its citizens, and the rapid outpacing of surveillance law by communications technology. Anyone who has seen The Imitation Game, a film loosely based on the biography of Alan Turing, will appreciate the conflicting currents at the core of this case: the rights of an individual to know, and foresee, what the limits of his freedom are, and the necessity to conceal from the enemy how much we know about their methods. Except the Turing film takes place in official wartime, whereas now the state of being at “war” has taken on a wholly different character. Continue reading →
Catt v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis  EWHC 1471 (Admin) – read judgment
Retention of data on a national database of material relating to a protester’s attendance at demonstrations by a group that had a history of violence, criminality and disorder, did not engage Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.
The claimant, now aged 87, applied for judicial review of the decision of the defendants to retain data, seeking an order that, as he had not himself been engaged in criminality, any reference to him should be deleted from the allegedly unlawfully retained material.
The data in issue was essentially comprised of records (or reports) made by police officers overtly policing demonstrations of a group known as “Smash EDO”, which carried out a long-running campaign calling for the closure of a US owned arms company carrying on a lawful business in the United Kingdom. Disorder and criminality had been a feature of a number of the protests along with harassment of the company’s staff. The defendant authority had retained data relating to the claimant’s attendance at various political protests on the National Domestic Extremism Database, and maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Continue reading →
The late US law Professor Paul Miller reflected recently that Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Elton John were examples of individuals whom, if they had been tested for serious genetic conditions at the start of their careers, may have been denied employment in the fields in which they later came to excel.
Earlier this month the Association of British Insurers announced the latest extension on the moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes. But is this “Concordat” sufficient protection? Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly available and profound questions are arising in relation to life and health insurance and employability as genetic screening becomes cheaper and widespread.
The Court of Appeal yesterday handed down judgment in the case of JIH v News Group Newspapers Ltd ( EWCA Civ 42). In allowing the appeal against the order of Tugendhat J ( EWHC 2818 (QB)) the Court ordered that the claimant’s anonymity should be restored.
Although the Court stressed that each decision is fact sensitive, this approach seems likely to be followed in most types of privacy injunction cases. This eagerly awaited decision adds to the growing body of case law concerning reporting restrictions where an injunction has been granted to restrain publication of information about a claimant’s private life.
Ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed failed this weekend to prevent the Daily Mail reporting that he had been granted permanent residency in Britain. The case highlights a growing trend for the courts to enforce open justice in two significant ways, both which rely heavily on protections guaranteed under human rights law.
Interestingly, two crucial aspects of open justice have been reinforced as a result of a case involving Mohamed himself. In fact, the open justice aspects of Mohamed’s case against the security services will probably emerge as amongst the most important legal rulings arising from the ‘war on terror’ era. Unfortunately for him, this may have had the unintended consequence of destroying any chances of maintaining his privacy.
General Dental Council v Rimmer  EWHC 1049 (Admin) (15 April 2010) – Read judgment
A dentist has been ordered to hand over his patients’ medical records to a court in order to help his regulator prosecute him for misconduct. The case raises interesting questions of when the courts can override patient confidentiality which would otherwise be protected by the Human Rights Act.
When health professionals are being prosecuted for misconduct,their patients’ confidential records will almost invariably be disclosed to the court if requested, even without the patients’ consent. Some may find this surprising, given the fact that medical records almost invariably contain highly private and potentially embarrassing information which a person would justifiably not want disclosed in a public court. However, the situation is not as simple as it first appears, as demonstrated by the recent case of an allegedly dodgy dentist.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.