Attorney General’s Reference (No 5 of 2002): HL 14 Oct 2004

The Attorney General sought the correct interpretation of section 17 where a court was asked as to whether evidence obtained from a telephone tapping had been taken from a public or private network. A chief constable suspected that the defendants, three of his officers, were selling confidential information to criminals. He ordered their telephones to be tapped. The resulting evidence was used in their trial. The systems tapped involved different networks of telephone systems, some private and some public.
Held: The basic object of section 17 appears to be to preserve the secrecy of the warrant system. There was nothing in the 2000 Act to suggest a parliamentary intention to render inadmissible as evidence in criminal proceedings any material which had previously been admissible. The Act did not operate to make such material inadmissible. It was permissible for the court to ask as to the source of such telephone intercept materials.
Lord Steyn said that in view of the absurdity that would otherwise result, the House must not give its literal interpretation to a statutory provision which, literally read, precluded the defence from asking questions to establish that there had been interception (consequently illegal) on part of a public telecommunications system, but allowed the prosecution to call evidence to the effect that the interceptions had taken place wholly within a police private telecommunications system (and were therefore legal). The linguistic difficulty was ‘decisively outweighed by a purposive interpretation of the statute’.


Lord Bingham Of Cornhill


[2004] UKHL 40, [2004] 4 All ER 901, [2005] 1 AC 167, [2004] 3 WLR 957


House of Lords, Bailii


Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 17(1)


England and Wales


CitedRegina v Preston, Preston, Clarke Etc HL 5-Nov-1993
Telephone tapping evidence consisting of tapping records are to be destroyed after their use for the purpose obtained, but a prosecution was not within that purpose. The underlying purpose of the 1985 Act is to protect information as to the . .
Appeal fromW, Regina v (Attorney General’s reference no 5 of 2002) CACD 12-Jun-2003
Three serving police officers provided confidential information to a known criminal. The Chief Constable authorised interception of telephones at a police station, a private network. The court accepted that section 17 prevented the defence asserting . .
CitedRegina v P and others HL 19-Dec-2000
Where communications had been intercepted in a foreign country, and the manner of such interceptions had been lawful in that country, the evidence produced was admissible in evidence in a trial in England. An admission of such evidence was not an . .
CitedMorgans v Director of Public Prosecutions HL 18-Feb-2000
Without a warrant, the police had arranged for a call logger to retain details of the calls made, including the number called, time and duration. The dialing itself was a communication, which established a connection, through which further . .
CitedRegina v Sargent HL 25-Oct-2001
When a telephone engineer used his position to make unauthorised telephone intercepts, and produced apparent evidence of criminal activity, he was, under the Act, a person engaged in providing a public communications system, and the recordings were . .
CitedRegina v Ahmed and Others CACD 29-Mar-1994
The tapping of telephone calls within a police station switchboard was outside the scope of the Act, since the calls were not intercepted whilst the communications were being carried on a public telecommunications system. . .
CitedHalford v The United Kingdom ECHR 25-Jun-1997
The interception of the telephone calls of an employee in a private exchange was a breach of her right of privacy. She had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The police force’s surveillances of the applicant’s telephone (to obtain information . .
CitedRegina v Effik; Regina v Mitchell HL 22-Jul-1994
The material obtained by intercepting signals passing between a base unit and the handset of a cordless telephone was admissible because no communication was being made by means of a public system when the calls were intercepted by the police. A . .
CitedRegina v Goodman CACD 4-Mar-2002
. .
CitedRegina v Allan CACD 6-Apr-2001
. .
CitedWestminster City Council v National Asylum Support Service HL 17-Oct-2002
The applicant sought assistance from the local authority. He suffered from spinal myeloma, was destitute and an asylum seeker.
Held: Although the Act had withdrawn the obligation to provide assistance for many asylum seekers, those who were . .
CitedS, Regina (on Application of) v South Yorkshire Police; Regina v Chief Constable of Yorkshire Police ex parte Marper HL 22-Jul-2004
Police Retention of Suspects DNA and Fingerprints
The claimants complained that their fingerprints and DNA records taken on arrest had been retained after discharge before trial, saying the retention of the samples infringed their right to private life.
Held: The parts of DNA used for testing . .
CitedInstitute of Patent Agents v Lockwood 1894
The court could apply a rectifying construction to conflicting provisions an Act where necessary.
Lord Herschell LC said: ‘You have to try and reconcile [the provisions] as best you may. If you cannot, you have to determine which is the . .

Cited by:

Appealed toW, Regina v (Attorney General’s reference no 5 of 2002) CACD 12-Jun-2003
Three serving police officers provided confidential information to a known criminal. The Chief Constable authorised interception of telephones at a police station, a private network. The court accepted that section 17 prevented the defence asserting . .
CitedRegina v Austin and others CACD 16-May-2008
The defendants sought leave to appeal against convictions for conspiracy to supply drugs. The prosecutor relied on surveillance evidence showing meetings and telephone calls between the defendants; evidence from recording devices in defendants’ . .
CitedKnaggs v The United Kingdom ECHR 14-Jan-2009
The claimants had been prosecuted following authorised intrusive surveillance. They challenged the laws which prevented them from asking questions about interception, and therefore from defending themselves. The defendants said that the police had . .
CitedNoone, Regina (on The Application of) v Governor of HMP Drake Hall and Another SC 30-Jun-2010
The prisoner had been sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment, one for less, and one for more than 12 months. She disputed the date on which she should be released to home detention under curfew under the Guidance issued by the Secretary of . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Criminal Practice, Constitutional

Updated: 27 October 2022; Ref: scu.216431