Liberty & Ors v UK

Reference: Application No 58243/00

Court: European Court of Human Rights

Judge: Garlicki P, Bratza, Mijovic, Bjorgvinsson, Sikuta, Hirvela

Date of judgment: 1 Jul 2008

Summary: Privacy - Article 8, European Court of Human Rights - Interception of communications - Interception of Communications Act 1985

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A number of civil liberties organisations alleged that between 1990 and 1997 their telephone and electronic communications had been intercepted by the Ministry of Defence. In domestic proceedings, no contravention of the Interception of Communications Act 1985 had been found. The organisations appealed to the ECHR.


Whether the interception was a breach of the organisations’ Article 8 ECHR right to respect for correspondence


Finding a violation of Article 8: the alleged interception of communications was an interference with the Applicants’ Art 8 rights. The Act granted a virtually unfettered discretion to capture external communications and conferred a wide discretion on the extent to which those captured communications could be listened to or read. The Act did not indicate with sufficient clarity, so as to provide adequate protection against abuse of power, the scope or manner of exercise of the wide discretion afforded to the State and was therefore not in accordance with the law. In particular there was no publicly available procedure as to the selection, sharing, storing and destruction of intercepted material.


The ECHR rejected the government’s argument that publication of the procedure for intercepted material at the relevant time might have caused a security risk. The case also reaffirms the ECHR’s strict approach to surveillance laws: the mere existence of legislation which allows for secret monitoring of communications amounts in itself to an interference with Article 8 ECHR irrespective of any measures actually taken.