Right to Privacy

Right to Privacy

In June 2013, disclosures made by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the security services in the USA and the UK were routinely accessing the communications of millions of people through previously secret programmes.  These disclosures raised widespread concern, both among the public and specialist non-governmental organisations.

Doughty Street barristers were instructed by Amnesty International in a claim against the UK Security Services before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) over concerns that the organisation’s communications had been unlawfully accessed by the UK intelligence services.  The IPT was established in October 2000 to oversee UK intelligence services. Most IPT hearings are conducted behind closed doors and of the 1,673 complaints it had determined by the end of 2013, only 10 were upheld – none of them against UK intelligence services.  Amnesty International also instructed Doughty Street barristers to draft a challenge in relation to accessing legally privileged material.

The IPT ultimately rejected Amnesty’s claim, and its criticisms of the oversight of the intelligence services, but it was only a matter of months before similar criticism could be found in David Anderson QC’s independent report, A Question of Trust. Significant changes to this regime are now contained within the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

Subsequently two parliamentarians, Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness Jenny Jones, also turned to Doughty Street for assistance in an IPT claim.  Their goal was clarification of the ‘Wilson doctrine’ – a promise made by successive Prime Ministers that MPs would not be subject to surveillance. When the IPT held that the Wilson Doctrine had no legal effect, the case raised an outcry in Parliament. The Prime Minister then voluntarily offered to put in place many of the safeguards for which Caroline Lucas and Baroness Jones had sought in their IPT challenge.

As the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill makes its way through Parliament, Doughty Street remains at the forefront of groundbreaking legal arguments to ensure that interception is carried out in accordance with the law.

For more information about Doughty Street’s work in this area please see our human rights team page.