UK Supreme Court rules intelligence activities subject to judicial review
© WikiMedia (Tom Morris)

UK Supreme Court rules intelligence activities subject to judicial review

The UK Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that decisions by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) are subject to judicial review. 

Prior to the ruling, IPT decisions could only be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

The IPT was established in 2000 to provide an avenue for redress for anyone who feels that they have been subject to “unlawful action by a public authority using covert investigative techniques.” Although officially independent, the IPT has been criticized for its perceived relationships with the institutions over which it holds jurisdiction.

The UK Supreme Court was deciding a case involving a 2016 ruling in which the IPT decided that government hacking did not violate human rights. The original suit was brought by Privacy International, a UK based non-profit that works to promote privacy rights internationally, in response to the Edward Snowden disclosures about the UK’s digital surveillance program.

Lord Carnwath, writing for the majority, concluded, “Consistent application of the rule of law requires such an issue to be susceptible in appropriate cases to review by ordinary courts.” The Government had argued that IPT rulings were not subject to judicial review, because the Act of Parliament had removed such issues from the Judiciary’s authority. Carnwath ultimately rejected this argument, writing: “It is ultimately for the courts, not the legislature, to determine the limits set by the rule of law to the power to exclude review.”

The court’s ruling does not establish whether the UK’s surveillance program is legal, but allows further suits to be brought before the court.