Mr & Mrs B v Department for Social Development (‘DSD’)

IPT/09/11/C

The Tribunal made a finding in favour of a husband and wife upon their joint complaint against the Northern Ireland DSD. The DSD did not dispute that they mistakenly authorised surveillance to allow DSD officers to enter the complainants’ property. The circumstances were that two officers of the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency’s Benefit Investigation Service, on behalf of the Respondent, entered the house owned by the Complainants, posing as potential house purchasers, and remained in the property for 35 minutes. This took place in the course of an investigation into allegedly overpaid social security benefits and allowances, which was the subject of a series of surveillance authorisations. There was a specific authorisation of this action, by way of a “test purchase operation”, but such authorisation did not fall within the provisions of RIPA.

The Complainants brought proceedings by way of a complaint against the Respondent, pursuant to Section 65(4) of RIPA. They did not fill in a separate form alleging breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), in the terms of Section 65(2)(a), but the Tribunal proceeded on the understanding that breach of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (‘ECHR’) was the substance of the complaint.

The Complainants sought, in addition to the quashing of warrants/authorisations, destruction of records and an apology, plus compensation in a sum which was put at a “significant six-figure sum” for each of the Complainants. The Tribunal ordered the quashing of the authorisation and the destruction of any notes of the surveillance, and stated that the surveillance was a breach of the Complainants’ Article 8 rights. However, the Tribunal concluded that no pecuniary loss was established and made no award of compensation.

Judgment dated : 29 Jul 11

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