Background

Mr Justice Tony Hunt presided at the Special Criminal Court, with Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge David McHugh in the trial of four men accused of abducting and assaulting Quinn Industrial Holdings director Kevin Lunney. The evidence in the case indicated that the attack on Mr. Lunney was an effort to get him to resign from his role as director of Quinn Industrial Holdings.

Admissibility of Phone Records

Lawyers for the accused challenged the admissibility of mobile phone evidence claiming the general retention of and access to such records was unlawful and their client’s rights to privacy were breached, as well as the rights of the wider public. They further argued that the mass retention of mobile phone data, showing the locations of phones, and incoming and outgoing calls and texts, was a breach of privacy rights guaranteed under the European Charter on Fundamental Rights.

Balancing of Rights

Judge Hunt stated that, in the interests of combating serious crime, the court had no doubt whatsoever that interferences with privacy and data rights are “necessary in a modern democratic society to achieve these aims.” Privacy rights, he said, are not absolute but are balanced against the right of society to have protection against serious crime and serious criminals.

Ruling

Mr Justice Hunt said the objective of fighting serious crime justifies the retention and accessing of mobile phone data. He said the objective of legislation permitting retention of phone data must balance the potential interference with privacy rights with the requirement to detect, investigate and prosecute serious crime. He pointed to a recent ruling of Chief Justice Frank Clarke that concluded that if mass retention were not permitted, the rights of victims of crime would be “set at nought”.

In a lengthy judgement, the three-judge court ruled that the evidence was lawfully gathered by gardai investigating offences that are “at the very top of any definition of serious crime.” It rejected arguments made by lawyers for the four men accused of the attack that the use of mobile phone evidence amounted to mass surveillance and that Gardaí were using private CCTV systems to operate a “de facto surveillance system”.

The Special Criminal Court will deliver its verdict on October 22nd.