Frequently asked Questions

Does the Tribunal ever find in favour of complainants?

Yes. The Tribunal has upheld complaints against public authorities.

Tribunal policies and procedures have developed to balance the need for transparency and open justice with the protection of sensitive material. You can find lots of detail about what we do and how we do it.

For example, the Tribunal has  made a determination in favour of a Claimant in a recent case brought against one or all of the security and intelligence agencies. Pursuant to Section 68 (5) RIPA the Tribunal wrote to the Prime Minister in July 2015 reporting its findings, giving a detailed explanation of its judgments in Liberty/Privacy and Belhadj & Others. You can find details of this and of other key cases ruled on which the Tribunal has ruled, a number of which include rulings in favour of complainants here.

Can I complain on someone's behalf?

All complaints or claims must be brought by the person concerned. This includes any organisation and association or combination of persons. Complainants may receive help in completing the form and it can be submitted by a representative. However, the Tribunal Rules require that the form and any additional statements must be signed by the complainant. The exception is signature by a parent or guardian in respect of a complaint by a child or vulnerable adult.

The Tribunal cannot accept single applications on behalf of more than one person. This is because it is required to make a determination in relation to each complaint falling within it’s jurisdiction. It may find that conduct relates to one complainant but not others who are linked to that complaint and the final determination may be different. To be considered valid a complainant must sign their own form. The only exception is where a parent or guardian signs on behalf of a child.

How can I complain about surveillance or phone interception when the whole point of this kind of activity is that I do not know it is happening?

You can bring a case to the Tribunal if you  believe that covert activity has taken place. You do not have to have evidence to prove it in order to bring a case before the Tribunal, although it will help your case if you provide as much information as you can about the circumstances which lead you to believe that covert action has been taken against you. The way the Tribunal is set up and the powers it has mean it is uniquely placed to facilitate the making and answering of a complaint. It is able to investigate, obtain and protect evidence on behalf of all parties to the complaint.  

Will the Tribunal tell me if I have been under surveillance or my phone has been intercepted?

No. It is not the Tribunal’s function to tell complainants whether their telephones have been tapped, or if they have been the subject of other activity. Its purpose is to ascertain whether the public authorities have complied with legislation and acted proportionately. If your complaint is upheld, the Tribunal may be able to disclose details of any unlawful conduct taken against you. If your complaint is not upheld, you will not be told whether any conduct has been taken against you.

Can I complain about the activities of individuals, private investigators or companies?

Under RIPA the Tribunal has no jurisdiction in these cases - unless the individuals, investigators or companies are tasked by a public authority covered by the RIPA regime. For instance, a local authority might contract out surveillance activities or ask individuals to carry out surveillance on its behalf. In such a case the Tribunal will have jurisdiction to hear complaints.

Is there a time limit?

Yes. The Tribunal is not required to consider complaints made more than a year after the relevant activity took place. However, the Tribunal can and does exercise its discretion and extend this time if is it ‘equitable’, fair,  or reasonable to do so in all the circumstances of the case.

Who actually makes the decisions in a case?

Decisions are made by a at least two Tribunal Members, who are required to be legally qualified as set out in RIPA. The decisions they take include decisions about whether applications are out of time, out of jurisdiction or frivolous or vexatious.

How are cases actually heard?

Within certain limits, the Tribunal can determine its own procedures. How it investigates and determines a complaint depends on the complaint before the Tribunal. All determinations are made applying judicial review principles and most are made on paper without the need for oral hearings.

Is the Tribunal really independent of Government?

Yes. The Tribunal is a fully independent and impartial court. No Government Department or public authority can intervene in a Tribunal investigation or influence its decisions. The Tribunal makes its determinations based entirely on the evidence before it and operates on the same principles as in judicial review cases.

How do I know an agency (SIA) will provide all information requested of it?

All public authorities investigated by the Tribunal are under a statutory obligation under RIPA Section 68(6) to provide the Tribunal with anything it requires in the course of its investigations.

The Tribunal can demand clarification or explanation of any information provided, order an individual to give evidence in person, inspect an organisation’s files, or take any other action the Tribunal sees fit. The Tribunal can also require the various Commissioners who supervise the intelligence agencies and others to provide it with any assistance it requires for its investigations.

How long will I have to wait before the Tribunal makes its decision?

The Tribunal has no set time limit for responding to complaints or claims. This is because all cases vary in scope and detail, and we deal with each one on its own merits. The amount of time we take can also depend on the responses we receive to our enquiries, which may lead us to seek more information from the complainant or the organisation complained about.

Will I be contacted by the organisation that is the subject of my complaint or claim?

All complaints and claims are dealt with through the Tribunal. The organisations that are the subject of a claim or complaint make all their responses directly to the Tribunal for the Tribunal’s consideration. You will not be contacted by any organisation in relation to your complaint.

Will I receive information about the progress of my complaint/claim?

The Tribunal is restricted in what it can disclose during the investigation of a complaint or claim. The Tribunal Rules state that no information or documents provided to the Tribunal, nor the fact that any have been provided, can be disclosed. Until final determination, therefore, the Tribunal can only inform you that an investigation is ongoing. If the conduct you complain of is found to have occurred, and to have been unlawful, you will receive a determination in your favour. You will then receive as much information as the Tribunal can supply without, where this is relevant, putting national security at risk.

Will making a complaint or claim to the Tribunal cost me anything?

No. The Tribunal investigates complaints and claims free of charge. You do not need to hire a lawyer, but are at liberty to do so. However, if you decide to submit your complaint through a solicitor or other representative, the Tribunal will not normally refund any costs you may incur as a result. Legal aid is not available to fund any representation in the Tribunal.

Can I appeal the Tribunal’s decision or ask for it to be reconsidered?

Section 242 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPAct) amends the Regulation of investigatory powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to provide a right of appeal from decisions and determinations of the Tribunal on points of law that raise an important point of principle or practice, or if there is some other compelling reason for granting leave to appeal.

Commencement 10 includes a transitional provision making clear that decisions/determinations made before 31 December 2018 cannot be appealed. The appeal route does not apply retrospectively.

Where leave to appeal is granted, the appeal will be determined by either the Court of Appeal in England and Wales (CoA) or the Court of Session in Scotland (CoS) (the Tribunal will determine which is the appropriate appellate court). RIPA, as amended by the IP Act, includes the power, which can be exercised with the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to allow appeals to be heard in the CoA NI. However, the Northern Ireland Assembly has not yet been in a position to provide legislative consent to enable relevant appeals to be determined by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland (CoA NI). In the meantime, legislation provides that appeals may be heard in the CoS and the CoA so that it is possible for an appeal regarding a matter that relates to Northern Ireland to be heard in either of those courts.


Can claimants visit the Tribunal’s Offices or deliver material to the Tribunal in person?

No. For security reasons no such visits may take place, and all correspondence must be addressed to the Tribunal’s P.O Box, 33220 London SW1H 9ZQ.

Last updated: 5 Jul 16