NUJ granted permission to intervene in “Snoopers Charter” appeal

  • 02 Feb 2023

The NUJ has been granted permission to intervene in the human rights organisation Liberty’s “People vs the snoopers’ charter” appeal in the Court of Appeal.

This will allow the union to provide a voice to journalists in this important legal challenge to the ‘bulk’ surveillance regime contained in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA 2016).

The IPA 2016, which has been dubbed “the Snoopers Charter” by campaign groups, empowers state authorities to intercept and retain communications data on an unprecedented scale and without any requirement for “suspicion” of wrongdoing. The Act has serious implications for press freedom in view of the risks of intrusion into journalists’ private communications and the protection of journalistic sources. The NUJ argued in the High Court in 2019 that the IPA 2016’s bulk surveillance powers were incompatible with Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protect the right to respect for private life and the right to freedom of expression respectively.  

In 2019, the High Court declined to make a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998, but since the judgment was handed down, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) gave judgment in a case brought by Big Brother Watch (Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 58170/13, 62322/14 and 24969/15), finding aspects of the previous bulk surveillance regime (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) violated Articles 8 and Article 10 ECHR.

The Government has now conceded that aspects of the IPA 2016 are incompatible with Articles 8 and 10 ECHR and has committed to amend some aspects of the law, but those concessions do not go far enough to adequately protect press freedom. Liberty and the NUJ are therefore pursuing this appeal, seeking a declaration that the law is incompatible with Articles 8 and 10 ECHR.

Recognising the NUJ’s “significant experience of the issues”, the Court of Appeal has granted permission for it to lead the arguments on the protection of journalistic sources and materials at the Court of Appeal hearing, which will take place over three days from 9 May 2023.

Following the grant of permission to intervene, the NUJ’s lawyers said:

“This is a vital opportunity for the NUJ to play a significant role in protecting the freedom of the press, which is under threat from the bulk surveillance powers in the IPA 2016. The NUJ is uniquely placed to provide the Court with powerful arguments concerning the structure and operation of the scheme and its implications for journalists.  We look forward to representing the interests of its members at the hearing in May.”

The NUJ is represented in the appeal by Caroline Robinson and Grace Benton of Bindmans LLP and Jude Bunting KC of Doughty Street Chambers.  Natasha Morris, the NUJ’s legal and equality officer, said:

“The NUJ welcomes the opportunity to intervene on such a vitally important issue, that could have grave implications for our members and on journalism.”



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