IHRC welcomes High Court decision to consult EU Court of Justice on privacy case

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) today welcomed the decision of the High Court to consult the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU Court) on the extent to which a national court is required by EU Treaties to inquire into and assess the compatibility of the implementing measures under an EU Directive with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in a case concerning the right to privacy.

The High Court will make a preliminary reference to the EU Court to ask whether EU Directive 2006/24/EC requiring the retention of mobile, internet and email data respects the Plaintiff’s rights. Mr Justice McKechnie sitting in the High Court today also decided to refer a second question suggested by the IHRC, to the EU Court. The High Court will, thus, seek guidance from the EU Court on whether national legislation intended to implement an EU Directive must itself comply with the human rights standards set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in order to be compatible with EU law. The IHRC considers this a matter which has significance throughout the EU.

The questions arise in the case of Digital Rights Ireland v The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and others ("Digital Rights") in which the IHRC appears as amicus curiae (friend of the court). The Digital Rights case involves the circumstances under which State authorities can require telecommunications service providers to retain and to provide to the State, data on the mobile phone, internet and e-mail communications of people who use their services. Today the IHRC drew the attention of the Court to the significance of the right to privacy as protected by Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and informed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) given the fact that the EU is now acceding to the ECHR.

Dr Maurice Manning, President of the IHRC, commenting on the decision of the High Court stated

"the IHRC considers, as stated in our submission as amicus curiae to the High Court, that the Court of Justice of the European Union would give some guidance as to the relevance of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in cases such as Digital Rights, which involve important personal rights. The Charter is now the fundamental human rights instrument within the EU, but its impact has not yet been fully realised. The guidance now being sought by the High Court should give direction on this very fundamental point, making the human rights protections under EU law much more relevant to the individual. This will have significance in each State throughout the EU."

Dr Manning went on to say that

"The IHRC’s role as amicus curiae in these proceedings was central to having this question concerning the Charter raised, and shows the importance of having a truly independent body, with expertise in human rights, available to assist the courts where issues concerning the fundamental rights of the individual arise."

ENDS/

For further information please contact:
Fidelma Joyce, IHRC, tel: 01 8589601

Notes to Editor

The text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights was originally agreed in 2000, but was not given full legal effect until 1 December 2009, as part of the Lisbon Treaty and binds all the institutions of the European Union and Member States when they are implementing EU law.

Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), allows a national Court or Tribunal to make a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union in relation to the interpretation of EU law. The decision of the Court of Justice is then binding on the national court and must be applied in the domestic proceedings accordingly.

Under section 8(h) of the Human Rights Commission Act, 2000, the IHRC may, at the discretion of the High Court or the Supreme Court, appear as amicus curiae in proceedings that involve or are concerned with the human rights of any person.

Section 2 of the Human Rights Commission Act, 2000 defines "human rights" to include those rights conferred on or guaranteed to persons under the Constitution and under any agreement, treaty or convention to which the State is a party.

The current proceedings in the High Court have been brought by Digital Rights Ireland, a non-governmental organisation.

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