Privacy Law in the United Kingdom (UK)

Since the UK does not have a codified Constitution, there was initially no formally recognised right to privacy in the UK. Instead, there were piecemeal protections of privacy under other laws which protect aspects like the right against trespass. 

In 1950, the European Union (EU) enacted the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) which introduced formal privacy legislation in Europe. This included Article 8 of the ECHR, which protected the right to private and family life. However, the provisions of the ECHR were not directly justiciable in UK courts.

The Human Rights Act, 1998 gave effect to and incorporated the ECHR into UK’s domestic law. The right to respect for private and family life was formally recognised in the United Kingdom though the enactment of this law. 

This law allowed the Supreme Court in Human Rights Commission for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland : Abortion) (Rev 1) (2018) to recognise bodily integrity and abortion within the ambit of private life protected under Article 8 of the ECHR, paving the way for abortion rights to subsequently be extended to Northern Ireland. The Human Rights Act, 1998 also gave impetus to the reasonable expectation of privacy that arises for public figures and celebrities, as laid down in Campbell vs. MGN Limited (2004). 

Privacy rights were also at the forefront of the Data Protection Act (most recently amended in 2018), and the UK General Data Protection Regulation, 2021. These laws work in conjunction with each other to provide a legal framework for the collection and processing of personal data of individuals in the UK. 

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is the final court of appeal in the UK, and was established in 2009. Prior to 2009, the highest court of the land was the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 set up a framework for the division between judiciary and legislature and established the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. After the Supreme Court came into existence, the judges from the House of Lords, became its first Justices. 

The Supreme Court hears appeals on matters of public and constitutional importance. It is solely an appellate court and not a court of first instance. Hence, all matters considered in the Supreme Court must be on appeal from lower courts.

The Supreme Court’s jurisdiction covers civil cases from all of the United Kingdom, and criminal matters from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The final court of appeal for criminal cases in Scotland is the High Court of Justiciary. However, the Supreme Court may review the decisions of the High Court of Justiciary in limited cases involving ‘devolution issues’. These issues arise when the applicable laws fall outside of the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence due to incompatibility with Community law and ECHR rights. 

The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for matters arising from the Court of Appeal in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Court of Session in Scotland. The Supreme Court also considers matters from the High Courts of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, in limited cases (known as ‘leapfrog appeals.’) The Supreme Court allows Leapfrog appeals where the High Court judge certifies that the case involves a point of general public importance and deals with the creation of a statutory instrument. 

Currently, the database contains key cases on privacy from the Supreme Court and the House of Lords and certain landmark cases from the High Court of England and Wales.

To access these summaries, refer to our page here. We have also compiled a list of key laws which impact the right to privacy in the UK. To access our page on UK’s privacy laws, click here.

Disclaimer: Our case summaries cover only the privacy aspects of each judgment. Other legal issues that may have arisen in these cases have not been summarised by us.