Volume of complaints

The Tribunal has received a steadily increasing number of complaints since its inception. We can only consider and determine cases complainants choose to put before us, but there are a number of possible reasons for this increase. The Snowden leaks in 2013 have played a part, but NGOs are also bringing more cases, the public authorities hold more power, , amendments to RIPA have widened the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and members of the public increasingly aware of the Tribunal as a legal recourse. The combination of these factors means the volume of complaints to the Tribunal has risen from 95 in its first year to over 250 in 2015.

We have not included complaints we have received as a direct result of the recent online Privacy International campaign in 2015 here so that we can see the trend and compare each year  more appropriately.

The Privacy International campaign led to approximately 660 related individual complaints against the security and intelligence agencies. These cases arise out of the judgments of the Tribunal in the Liberty/ Privacy cases [Numbers 1 and 2 Link to these cases on Judgements page]

Complaints received


Which organisations were most complained about in 2010 compared with 2015

The Table and Chart show the types of organisations that were the subject of complaints during these years.
Please note: Tribunal Rules dictate that, in the absence of any express order of the Tribunal, any valid complaint received by the Tribunal, that is a complaint that is within its jurisdiction, generally refers to conduct taking place not longer than a year before the complaint and is not deemed frivolous or vexatious,  must be investigated. The fact of an investigation or receipt of a complaint must not be seen as any indication of unlawful behaviour. Unlawful activity on the part of a public authority only arises if the Tribunal makes a ruling in favour of the complainant.


Public Authority

Complaints 2010 (%)

Complaints 2015 (%)

SIAs (MI6, MI5 or GCHQ)



Law Enforcement Agency (LEAs)

(Police Force, NCA)



Local Authority



Other Public Authority

e.g. Department for Work and Pensions



Year on year comparison


The types of organisation about which we receive complaints are relatively evenly spread, although complaints against Local authorities have declined compared with the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and miscellaneous public authorities. This decline could be in part due to the changes in authorisation procedures. Although in practice, many complainants who suspect they are subject to intrusive powers, but are unsure about the public authority involved, tend to allege unlawful conduct against all public authorities with RIPA powers, but especially to site the Police and security and intelligence agencies.


Between 2011 and 2015 there was an increase in the number of Open hearings held by the Tribunal, particularly in relation to complaints brought by NGOs, where issues of law have been raised. Nothing in RIPA or the Tribunal Rules contains an absolute right for either party before the Tribunal to either an inter partes hearing or a separate oral hearing without the other party. The decision to hold an oral hearing in a particular case is at the discretion of the Tribunal. We do not have to do so, but if we consider it would assist the case, we may do so in accordance with Rule 9 of the Tribunal Rules.

In 2015 the Tribunal sat on 15 occasions in open court, relating to 20 complaints. We will announce open court proceedings in advance where possible on our Cases page.

Increase in Open hearings

By year

Material about secret interception and surveillance operations pose special procedural considerations for the Tribunal. The Tribunal regularly inspects material of the highest security classification which, if disclosed, could harm national security and law enforcement operations which protect the country from terrorists, organised criminals and hostile action by other states. If they are to be used effectively, the interception of communications and covert surveillance must be secret. Accordingly the Tribunal does not give statistics for closed hearings as it is prevented from doing so by Rule 6(2)(a). 

Number of Complaints Received and Outcome by Year








86 (44%) were ruled as ‘frivolous or vexatious’


72 (36%) received a ‘no determination’ outcome


20 (10%) were ruled out of jurisdiction


11 (6%) were ruled out of time


3 (2%) were withdrawn


2 (1%) were judged to be not a valid complaint


2 (1%) were found in favour




100 (52.5%) were ruled as ‘frivolous or vexatious’


62 (32.5%) received a ‘no determination’ outcome


14 (7%) were ruled out of jurisdiction


9 (5%) were ruled out of time


5 (2.5%) were withdrawn


1 (0.5%) were judged to be not a valid complaint




85 (53%) were ruled as frivolous or vexatious


50 (31%) received a ‘no determination’ outcome


17 (10%) were ruled out of jurisdiction, withdrawn or not valid


9 (6%) were ruled out of time




104 (52%) were ruled as frivolous or vexatious


53 (26%) received a ‘no determination’ outcome


36 (18%) were ruled out of jurisdiction, withdrawn or not valid


8 (4%) were ruled out of time




101 (47%) were ruled as frivolous or vexatious


65 (30%) received a ‘no determination’ outcome


38 (17%) were ruled out of jurisdiction, withdrawn or not valid


7 (3%) were ruled out of time


8 (4%) were found in favour

Breakdown of Complaints Determined

Number of Complaints Received and Outcome by Year chart shows that of the cases decided in the 2015, 47% of complaints were ruled as ‘frivolous or vexatious’ and 30% received a ‘no determination’ outcome; another 17% were ruled out of jurisdiction, withdrawn or not valid; and 3% were ruled out of time. This means that in 97% of the complaints made of unlawful RIPA conduct either no activity at all was occurring or such activity as did occur was lawfully authorised.

The Tribunal has robust procedures for determining whether complaints are frivolous and vexatious, out of jurisdiction and out of time, as dictated by the [Rules link to Rules section], and these have been established over its 16-year history. The history and justification of these policies and procedures is covered in detail [here link to rules section]]. Decisions on whether a claim is out of jurisdiction, out of time, or frivolous or vexatious are only made if two or more Members are in agreement as to the reasons for determining such an outcome. Figure 1 explains what those outcomes mean in greater depth. The number of cases we have judged to be ‘frivolous or vexatious’ has remained high since we began our work in 2000.

Of the cases we investigated which are not out of jurisdiction, out of time, deemed frivolous or vexatious under Section 67(4) or dismissed for an administrative reason, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of open hearings.  In 27% of complaints we decided in 2015, and not falling into one of the above categories, we held a hearing in open court.

Percentage of Open hearings

Open Hearings

Please note: Any differences between the statistics published on this site and those of  previous years are the result of corrections that have now been made.


Last updated: 5 Jul 16