Offence of unlawful interception

Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 12 April 2016.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 3—Tort or delict of unlawful interception—

“Any interception of a communication which is carried out without lawful authority at any place in the United Kingdom by, or with the express or implied consent of, a person having the right to control the operation or the use of a private telecommunication system shall be actionable by the sender or recipient, or intended recipient, of the communication if it is either—

(a) an interception of that communication in the course of its transmission by means of that private system; or

(b) an interception of that communication in the course of its transmission, by means of a public telecommunication system, to or from apparatus comprised in that private telecommunication system.”

This new clause creates a civil wrong of unlawful interception.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

I will deal with new clause 3 in fairly short compass. The amendment was suggested to me by the Scottish division of Pen International, which is a world association of writers. It would introduce a tort, or a delict as we call it in Scotland, for unlawful interception. Such a tort or delict exists already as a result of section 1(3) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and I am not entirely sure why it has not been replicated in the Bill. I would be interested to hear from the Solicitor General or the Minister for Security why the Government did not include the measure in the Bill, and whether they will give it serious consideration. It would give a meaningful avenue of recourse and act as a motivation to intelligence agencies, police forces and the Government to ensure that all interception is lawfully authorised, on pain of an action for damages if it is not properly authorised. It is really a very simple new clause modelled on section 1(3) of RIPA. I am interested to hear what the Government have to say about this suggestion.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

It is a pleasure to take this first opportunity to say that I am looking forward to serving under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and indeed to serving with all colleagues on the Committee.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for making her observations in a succinct and clear way. I am able to answer her directly about the approach that we are taking. One of the aims of the Bill is to streamline provisions to make them as clear and easy to understand as possible. She is quite right in saying that RIPA had within it this provision—a tort or a delict, as it is called north of the border, that would allow an individual to take action against a person who has the right to control the use or operation of a private telecommunications system and to intercept communication on that system.

The Government have fielded a number of inquiries about the non-inclusion of the RIPA provision in the Bill. The circumstances in which it applies are extremely limited, and as far as we are aware it has never been relied on in the 15 years of RIPA’s operation. The provision applies only in limited circumstances because it applies to interception on a private telecommunications system, such as a company’s internal email or telephone system. Where the person with the right to control the use or operation of the system is a public authority, there are of course rights of redress under the Human Rights Act 1998, such as article 8 rights.

The Bill is intended to make the protections enjoyed by the public much clearer and we feel that introducing that course of action or replicating it would not add to that essential clarity, but I have listened carefully to the hon. and learned Lady and we are happy to look again at the issue in the light of her concerns. On that basis, I invite her not to press her new clause and I hope we can return to the matter on Report.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Solicitor General for his constructive approach. I am happy not to press the new clause at this stage on the basis that the Government will look at it. I am happy to receive any suggestions about the drafting, which is mine. I had some discussions about the terms of the drafting with Michael Clancy of the Law Society of Scotland and James Wolffe, the dean of the Faculty of Advocates, but any infelicities are my fault alone. I would be happy to discuss the drafting with the Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3