European court rules in favour of Graham Dwyer in mobile phone data challenge

Dwyer received a life sentence for the murder of Elaine O'Hara in 2015
European court rules in favour of Graham Dwyer in mobile phone data challenge

PA Reporter

Updated: 10.35am

Mobile data retention practices used in the case against Graham Dwyer, who was convicted of murder, breached European law, Europe’s top court has ruled.

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled that EU law precludes the "general and indiscriminate" retention of traffic and location data relating to electronic communication for the purpose of combating serious crime.

Mobile phone data was used prominently by the prosecution in Dwyer’s trial for the murder of childcare worker Elaine O’Hara in 2015.

Dwyer pleaded not guilty to the charge, but was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Graham Dwyer court case
Elaine O’Hara. Photo: Garda/PA

The Irish Supreme Court will now consider the ruling and its effect.

Dwyer is expected to remain in prison while the Court of Appeal deals with admissibility issues.

The case was referred to the CJEU by the Supreme Court, following a successful challenge by Dwyer over the retention and accessing of his mobile phone data.

In 2018, the High Court found that legislation allowing mobile phone data to be retained and accessed as part of criminal investigations breached EU law.

The CJEU confirmed it is settled case law which holds that EU law precludes national legislative measures, which was used in Dwyer’s case.

It means that the State's system of retaining and accessing mobile phone metadata breaches EU law.

The court said the EU’s privacy and electronic communications directive “enshrines the principle” of the prohibition of the storage of traffic and location data.

The court went on to say that the retention of mobile phone data is an interference with the EU’s charter of fundamental rights regarding the respect for private life and the protection of personal data.

 

The court also said that any limitations on those rights must comply with the principle of proportionality.

It added: “Thus, the court has already held that the objective of combating serious crime, as fundamental as it may be, does not in itself justify that a measure providing for the general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data should be considered to be necessary.

“In the same vein, even the positive obligations of the member states relating to the establishment of rules to facilitate effective action to combat criminal offences cannot have the effect of justifying interference that is as serious as that entailed by legislation providing for the retention of traffic and location data with the fundamental rights of practically the entire population, in circumstances where the data of the persons concerned are not liable to disclose a link, at least an indirect one, between those data and the objective pursued.”

The court rejected the State’s arguments that particular serious crimes could be treated the same way as a threat to national security.

The court said that a threat to national security which is genuine and current or foreseeable could, for a limited period of time, justify indiscriminate retention of data.

It went on to say that such a threat is distinguishable, by its nature, from serious crime.

Data held in the Cork-born architect’s work phone was used in the trial to demonstrate how it placed the device at specific places at particular times and dates.

The ruling from the CJEU will have implications for the way police investigations are conducted across Europe.

Responding to the ruling, a statement from Minister for Justice Helen McEntee noted the ECJ judgement, adding: "The case will now revert to the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice will consider, together with the Attorney General's Office, the judgement of the Supreme Court when the case is finalised."

"It is expected that the Supreme Court’s judgment will bring clarity in this important area to inform the necessary legislation, thus supporting to the greatest degree possible the work of An Garda Síochána to tackle crime and carry out effective investigations.

"This legislation will need to take account of the outcome of the Supreme Court’s referral to the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the judgment of the Supreme Court," the statement said.

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