Campaigner John Catt wins appeal over extremism database
A political campaigner has won a legal battle to have his details removed from a police extremism database.
John Catt, 88, from Brighton, took his case to the Court of Appeal claiming the retention of data was unlawful.
Peace protester Mr Catt has taken part in a number of campaigns, but has not engaged in any criminality.
High Court judges last year ruled against his plea to have details of his activities removed from the National Domestic Extremism Database.
They dismissed his judicial review claim, ruling that his right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights was not infringed.
But now, following a hearing at the Court of Appeal in January, Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice McCombe, have allowed Mr Catt's appeal against the earlier decision.'Landmark case'
End Quote James Welch Liberty
Peaceful protest is crucial to our democracy and must be protected”
Lord Justice Moore-Bick said personal information relating to Mr Catt was on a database maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, originally under the supervision of Acpo and now under the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
He said: "The systematic collection, processing and retention on a searchable database of personal information, even of a relatively routine kind, involves a significant interference with the right to respect for private life."
He said it could be justified by showing that it served the public interest in a "sufficiently important way", but in Mr Catt's case it had not been shown "that the value of the information is sufficient to justify its continued retention".
Everyone accepts police have the right to tackle disorder and criminality at demonstrations.
Gathering evidence by taking photographs, filming and logging details of troublemakers and potential witnesses is one way of doing that.
Retaining the details for the purposes of a criminal investigation might well be warranted. But the Court of Appeal says there must be a limit on how long such information can be stored - especially when it concerns innocent people.
The court said: "The systematic collection, processing and retention on a searchable database of personal information, even of a relatively routine kind, involves a significant interference with the right to respect for private life."
In John Catt's case, this was not justified.
Unless police appeal against the judgment, and are successful, they will have to weed from the database the details of hundreds, possibly thousands, of other campaigners or risk further legal challenges.
Legal analyst Joshua Rozenberg previously said if Mr Catt won, it would be a landmark case.
The campaigner, who was stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act while wearing an anti-Tony Blair T-shirt during a Labour Party conference in Brighton in 2005, was not in court for Thursday's ruling.
In a statement he said: "I hope this judgment will bring an end to the abusive and intimidatory monitoring of peaceful protesters by police forces nationwide.
"Police surveillance of this kind only serves to undermine our democracy and deter lawful protest."
His lawyer Shamik Dutta, of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, said the judgment "acts as a safeguard against the creeping criminalisation of peaceful protest".
Mr Catt began legal action after he discovered details of his protests against EDO, a US-owned arms company which has a factory in Brighton, were being held on the database.
The Metropolitan Police said it was considering whether to appeal.
"Police databases, including those containing data on domestic extremism, are maintained in compliance with the Management of Police Information (MOPI) statutory code of practice," said a spokesman.
"Today's judgement raises a number of important issues relating to professional practice which will require careful consideration before we are able to reach a decision on how to proceed."
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, said after the ruling: "Intelligence-gathering is a key tool of modern policing but peaceful protest is crucial to our democracy and must be protected.
"The court rightly recognised that the routine retention of personal information about a committed but always peaceful protester was a clear breach of his privacy and of no identifiable use in terms of intelligence."