Culture Minister Confirms Court Oversight For UK Disconnections

UK internet users will not be disconnected from the internet for illegal file sharing without a court's involvement, a Government minister has pledged. Culture minister Ben Bradshaw has told MPs that there would be a "strict" process involving the courts.

The Government belatedly added the possibility of disconnection into a pre-existing consultation on the Digital Britain report on how the UK should deal with emerging technologies.

The Report had not backed the disconnection of internet access used by people suspected of illegal file sharing but the Government later extended the consultation process and asked for views on the move.

The u-turn has been widely reported as having been the brainchild of business secretary Lord Mandelson. Now Bradshaw has reassured MPs that no disconnections will happen without the involvement of a court.

"It wouldn't just happen on the basis of an accusation. Firstly there would need to be a court order for any of the technical measures," he told the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee last week, according to news service the Press Association.

"The suspension … would be as a very last resort for serial and serious infringement; [it] would be subject to a strict two-stage process," said Bradshaw.

"I hope you would not go away with the impression that innocent teenagers are going to be cut off willy-nilly on the basis of an accusation," Bradshaw said, according to news service ZDNet. "That is not our intention and is not the effect of what we will propose when we come to publish the bill."

The original plan did not guarantee court oversight and the Government was criticised for not involving the courts.

"Cutting people off the internet for allegedly infringing copyright is disproportionate," said Larry Whitty, chairman of Consumer Focus, when the plan was announced. "And to do so without giving consumers the right to challenge the evidence against them undermines fundamental rights to a fair trial."

Bradshaw's statements to MPs appears to signal a change in policy on the role of courts in possible disconnections.

European legislators are locked in battle on the same issue. The European Commission and Council wish to pass a reforming Telecoms Package but the European Parliament has inserted into it a requirement that any cutting off of internet connections used by alleged file sharers only be done with a court's permission.

The Council and Commission rejected the amendment but in doing so had to reject all the other Telecoms Package measures that they want to see implemented. The three parties have until February to agree a deal on the issue of court oversight of disconnections or the whole Package will have to be renegotiated from scratch, a Parliament spokeswoman told OUT-LAW.COM last week.