High Court decision allows Liberty's "Snoopers' Charter" challenge to proceed to appeal

  • 22 Apr 2022

Victory is welcomed by the NUJ following concerns over the protection of journalists and their sources

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has welcomed a decision by the High Court to grant permission to the human rights organisation, Liberty, to appeal parts of a judgment handed down in July 2019 over the lawfulness of “bulk” surveillance powers. Liberty’s application is supported by the NUJ, which took the lead in arguing the issues relating to journalistic protection in the High Court.

The case is about the use of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA) which empowers state authorities to intercept and retain communications on an unprecedented scale. Dubbed the ‘Snooper’s charter’, it raised alarm amongst several groups about the way in which the private communications of individuals and their data can be stored and used.

The Act has severe implications for press freedoms and because of these concerns the NUJ has stepped in to support Liberty’s legal challenge including funding its own legal team.  Vindicating the NUJ’s arguments regarding the incompatibility of the IPA with Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Government has now announced that it intends to change the law to require a judge to give permission before intelligence services can intercept and retain confidential material held by journalists.  This is a huge victory in safeguarding the crucial work of journalists and the protection of sources. 

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“This is a brilliant victory for the NUJ over a principle which cuts to the core of journalistic practice. The inadequate safeguards to protect journalistic communications in this Act were of enormous concern and, left unchallenged, could have led to the interception of communications between journalists and their sources.

The duty to protect sources and maintain a pledge of confidentiality is a vital one that the NUJ and its members will always stand up and defend.”

The NUJ’s lawyers said:

“The protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for freedom of expression in a functioning democracy.  The bulk surveillance powers in the IPA 2016 risk undermining journalists’ vital role as a public watchdog, as journalists and their sources can have little confidence that their communications will be protected from state intrusion.”

While permission to appeal is an important step forward, the NUJ still hopes to play a significant role in these proceedings on behalf of our members and continues to support Liberty’s appeal.

Liberty said:

“The safeguards in the Snoopers’ Charter (the Investigatory Powers Act 2016) breach our privacy and free expression rights as they do not protect against the dangers of bulk powers. These allow spies to scoop up the private communications and internet data of swathes of the population, hack into our computers, phones and tablets, and create vast “personal datasets” without suspicion.”

The next stage of the case is likely to be heard at the Court of Appeal in coming months. 

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