‘Plebgate’ decision handed-down by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal: Jeremy Johnson QC and Jonathan Dixey acted for the Metropolitan Police Service

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal has handed down judgment in the challenge by News Group Newspapers Ltd, the publisher of The Sun Newspaper, its Political Editor (Tom Newton Dunn), Chief Political Correspondent (Craig Woodhouse) and journalist (Anthony France).


The complaints arose from the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation of the now infamous exchange of words between Andrew Mitchell MP, the then Government Chief Whip, and police officers at the gate to Downing Street.  The incident would come to be referred to as ‘Plebgate’.  The MPS had obtained communications data of the three journalists and the hotline number to The Sun newspaper in order to identify the source / sources of information provided to the journalists.  The complainants alleged that their Article 10 and 8 ECHR rights had been breached by the MPS.


Following a hearing in July 2015 the IPT has concluded that three of the four applications were both necessary and proportionate, but that the fourth was a breach of Article 10 ECHR.


The IPT found that the legal regime in place in 2013 under section 22 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 did not contain effective safeguards to protect Article 10 rights in a case in which the authorisations had the purpose of obtaining disclosure of the identity of a journalist’s source.  However, in a significant finding, the IPT accepted the MPS’ interpretation of section 6(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that, notwithstanding this finding, it had not acted unlawfully in respect of the three authorisations because it was acting so as to give effect to section 22 of RIPA.


The IPT observed that the MPS could not be criticised for its decision to use section 22 of RIPA in aid of its investigations in Operation Alice.


The hearing follows significant public discussion about the powers available to the police and proposed amendments to RIPA contained within the Government’s draft Investigatory Powers Bill.


The Tribunal’s Judgment can be found here.

Jeremy Johnson QC and Jonathan Dixey acted on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service