Government phone tapping called into question by 39 Essex Street win

Richard Clayton QC of 39 Essex Street chambers has won a victory in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that could force the UK Government to review its policy of ­intercepting overseas calls.

The case, which focused on the confidentiality of calls made from within the UK to other countries, was brought by human rights campaign group Liberty, the Irish Council for Civil ­Liberties and three other civil liberties organisations – one British and two Irish.

Liberty lawyer Alexander Gask instructed Richard Clayton QC to act on behalf of Liberty. Derek Walton, a senior official in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, represented the Government.

Liberty challenged the UK policy of intercepting overseas calls based on the content of the call rather than the individual making the call. In the UK, calls can be intercepted based on the individual only.

The claimants argued that the legislation was not “in accordance with law”. The law requires that legislation must be accessible to the person concerned and that the person must be able to foresee the consequences.

The ECHR found in favour of Liberty, ruling that the domestic law failed to offer sufficient clarity so as to provide adequate protection against abuse of power.