NUJ and Liberty force government to amend Snoopers’ Charter

  • 08 Aug 2023

The Court of Appeal has handed down its judgment in the latest stage of Liberty’s legal action challenging the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, in which the NUJ intervened on behalf of its members to lead on arguments on the protection of journalistic communications and sources.

The NUJ is pleased that the court upheld the argument that the regime for sharing material from bulk personal datasets with overseas states is unlawful, and that the government has committed to amend the primary legislation on bulk interception by way of a remedial order. This is a victory forced by Liberty and the NUJ’s legal action against the Act, which has been ongoing since 2016.

The court has also remitted part of the NUJ’s argument concerning the issue of the adequacy of safeguards for journalistic material collected through bulk hacking by the intelligence agencies back to the Divisional Court to be determined, owing to the strength of our arguments in the Court of Appeal.

The NUJ is disappointed, however, that the court ruled against other arguments put forward in the challenge, for example in relation to the insufficient safeguards to limit the use of the powers conferred on the government in the Act.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“This is an important case and we welcome further examination by the courts on the adequacy of journalists’ safeguards in the context of bulk hacking. We are, however, disappointed with other aspects of the court’s ruling. The Investigatory Powers Act poses huge dangers for journalistic communications and the right of journalists to protect sources, which undermines their and the public’s access to stories in the public interest.”

Grace Benton, solicitor at Bindmans LLP, representing the NUJ, said:

“The NUJ, taking the lead on behalf of journalists in this important matter against the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, have forced the government to amend part of the Act because it was found to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. We hope too that the lack of safeguards for journalistic sources in the use bulk hacking will be given due consideration by the Divisional Court when remitted for hearing after October 2023. The NUJ are right, however, to be disappointed with the overall judgment of the Court of Appeal. It does not adequately grapple with the scope of the powers granted to the government under the Act. As a result, there remain threats to journalistic communications and the right of journalists to protect their sources.” 

Megan Goulding, Lawyer at Liberty, said:

“As we have shown over the course of this legal challenge, the Snoopers’ Charter is an invasive piece of legislation which infringes our rights. Mass surveillance does not make us safer. It fundamentally threatens and undermines our democracy and gifts extraordinary power to the state at our expense. We urge the government to ensure that any state surveillance is targeted, proportionate and does not interfere with our rights.”

Liberty’s case against the Snoopers’ Charter started in 2016, and the human rights organisation is assessing further action. Find out more about the legal action.

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