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Privacy International wins Supreme Court battle with Investigatory Powers Tribunal over judicial review

Privacy International wins Supreme Court battle with Investigatory Powers Tribunal over judicial review

Privacy International has fought a long battle against the extension of state electronic surveillance powers Privacy International has won its five-year legal battle with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), with the Supreme Court ruling today that the IPT can be subject to judicial review. The decision guarantees that when the IPT gets the law wrong,

Privacy International wins Supreme Court battle with Investigatory Powers Tribunal over judicial review

Privacy International has fought a long battle against the extension of state electronic surveillance powers

Privacy International has won its five-year legal battle with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), with the Supreme Court ruling today that the IPT can be subject to judicial review.

The decision guarantees that when the IPT gets the law wrong, its mistakes can be corrected, Privacy International claimed after the Court revealed its decision, adding that it ensures that the UK’s “spying tribunal” remains subject to the rule of law.

The government had argued that the IPT should be excluded from judicial review on account of its importance to national security.

Privacy International’s case stems from the approval of the IPT that the UK government may use sweeping ‘general warrants’ to hack devices en masse, without any approval from a judge or even reasonable grounds for suspicion.

The government had argued that it should be lawful for a single warrant to approve the surveillance of hundreds of thousands or even millions of devices simply by the approval of the relevant government minister. The IPT had agreed with the government.

When challenged in the High Court by Privacy International, the government had argued that even if the IPT’s interpretation of the law was completely wrong, the High Court had no power to correct the mistakes. The case was argued all the way to the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest legal authority, which ruled in favour of Privacy International.


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“The legal issue decided by the IPT is not only one of general public importance, but also has possible implications for legal rights and remedies going beyond the scope of the IPT’s remit. Consistent application of the rule of law requires such an issue to be susceptible in appropriate cases to review by ordinary courts,” said Lord Carnwath delivering his judgement today.

It would, added Caroline Wilson Palow, general counsel to Privacy International, enable the organisation to challenge the UK government’s use of bulk computer hacking warrants. “Our challenge has been delayed for years by the Government’s persistent attempt to protect the IPT’s decisions from scrutiny,” she said.

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