Malone v Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis (No 2): ChD 28 Feb 1979

The court considered the lawfulness of telephone tapping. The issue arose following a trial in which the prosecution had admitted the interception of the plaintiff’s telephone conversations under a warrant issued by the Secretary of State. The plaintiff claimed that the interception had been and was unlawful.
Held: Although he dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, the Vice Chancellor said ‘Any regulation of so complex a matter as telephone tapping is essentially a matter for Parliament, not the courts . . this case seems to me to make it plain that telephone tapping is a subject which cries out for legislation.’
‘I am not unduly troubled by the absence of English authority: there has to be a first time for everything, and if the principles of English law, and not least analogies from the existing rules, together with the requirements of justice and common sense, pointed firmly to such a right existing, then I think the court should not be deterred from recognising the right. On the other hand, it is no function of the courts to legislate in a new field. The extension of the existing laws and principles is one thing, the creation of an altogether new right is another.’
‘I readily accept that if the question before me were one of construing a statute enacted with the purpose of giving effect to obligations imposed by the Convention, the court would readily seek to construe the legislation in a way that would effectuate the Convention rather than frustrate it. However, no relevant legislation of that sort is in existence. It seems to me that where Parliament has abstained from legislating on a point that is plainly suitable for legislation, it is indeed difficult for the court to lay down new rules of common law or equity that will carry out the Crown’s treaty obligations, or to discover for the first time that such rules have always existed.’


Sir Robert Megarry VC


[1979] CLY 2098, [1979] 1 Ch 344, [1980] QB 49, [1979] 2 All ER 620, [1979] EWHC 2 (Ch)




European Convention on Human Rights


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedBonalumi v Secretary of State for the Home Department CA 1985
In the course of extradition proceedings, an order was obtained under the 1879 Act. The defendant sought to appeal against the order, and applied to the Court of Appeal.
Held: The procedure under the 1879 Act was in the course of criminal . .
CitedW, 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 . .
Appeal fromMalone v The United Kingdom ECHR 2-Aug-1984
COURT (PLENARY) The complainant asserted that his telephone conversation had been tapped on the authority of a warrant signed by the Secretary of State, but that there was no system to supervise such warrants, and that it was not therefore in . .
CitedWainwright and another v Home Office HL 16-Oct-2003
The claimant and her son sought to visit her other son in Leeds Prison. He was suspected of involvement in drugs, and therefore she was subjected to strip searches. There was no statutory support for the search. The son’s penis had been touched . .
CitedCostello v Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary CA 22-Mar-2001
The police seized a car from Mr Costello, believing that it was stolen. The seizure was lawful at the time, by virtue of section 19 of PACE. The police never brought any criminal proceedings against Mr Costello, but they refused to return the car to . .
CitedTillery Valley Foods v Channel Four Television, Shine Limited ChD 18-May-2004
The claimant sought an injunction to restrain the defendants broadcasting a film, claiming that it contained confidential material. A journalist working undercover sought to reveal what he said were unhealthy practices in the claimant’s meat . .
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 . .
See AlsoMalone v The United Kingdom ECHR 26-Apr-1985
Hudoc Judgment (Just satisfaction) Struck out of the list (friendly settlement) . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Human Rights, Police, Criminal Evidence

Updated: 19 July 2022; Ref: scu.183549