Director of Public Prosecutions v Bignell and Another: QBD 6 Jun 1997

Policemen were convicted by the stipendiary magistrate of an offence under 1990 Act. They had requested a police computer operator to obtain information from the Police National Computer about the ownership and registration of two cars for their own purposes. They had no authority to make that request or to obtain that information for that purpose. They were only permitted to make such a request for police purposes; indeed, to obtain the information, they had to misrepresent to the computer operator the purpose of their request. The computer operator acted under an authorisation from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He was authorised to use the computer to access the data on the database at the request of police officers; he was required to ascertain and log the reason for the request. The magistrate convicted the two officers of an offence under s.1. Their appeal to the Crown Court was allowed but the prosecution requested the Crown Court to state a case for the Divisional Court, stating four questions of law. They asked whether the Crown Court had been right in law to allow the appeal.
Held: The Crown Court decision was upheld. The defendants had only requested another to obtain information by using the computer. The computer operator himself did not exceed his authority. His authority permitted him to access the data on the computer for the purpose of responding to requests made to him in proper form by police officers. No offence had been committed. Extracting data from computer by a person who was otherwise generally authorised to use the computer, but in this case for an unauthorised purpose, does no constitute the offence of unlawful access. The purpose of the Act was to criminalise the breaking into or hacking of computer systems to preserve the ‘integrity of computer systems’. The defendants were characterised as persons who had ‘control access’ (using the word ‘control’ as a noun) ‘of the kind in question’.


Astill J, Pill LJ


Times 06-Jun-1997, [1998] Cr App R 1


Computer Misuse Act 1990 1 17


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedRegina v Bow Street Magistrates ex parte Government of the United States of America; In re Allison HL 2-Sep-1999
A person within an organisation who was authorised to access some data on a computer system at a particular level, could exceed his authority by accessing data at a level outside that authority. The unauthorised access offence under the 1990 Act was . .
FollowedRegina v Bow Street Magistrates ex parte Government of the United States of America QBD 13-May-1998
. .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 15 May 2022; Ref: scu.79987