European Court of Justice set to rule against the State over Dwyer's phone records

European Court Of Justice Set To Rule Against The State Over Dwyer's Phone Records
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Digital Desk Staff

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is expected to rule against the Irish State in a case referred to it after mobile phone records were used to convict murderer Graham Dwyer.

Mobile phone data was crucial to showing how Dwyer planned and attempted to cover up the murder of 36-year-old childcare worker Elaine O’Hara in August 2012.


As the Irish Times reports, the ECJ has ruled in two recent similar cases that member states and service providers do not have broad rights to retain data on citizens.

Irish officials now believe the ECJ is likely to rule against a general data retention scheme as in the Dwyer case.

There is considerable concern among prosecutors and police across the EU of the implications of such a ruling for investigating serious crimes and combating national security threats.

In light of its recent rulings, the ECJ has asked the Irish Supreme Court if it wishes to proceed with its referral of the Dwyer case. The Supreme Court has responded that it wishes the case to proceed and hearings are expected to begin in mid-January.


Dwyer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2015. He launched an appeal process shortly afterwards based on the argument that the retention and accessing of his mobile phone data was incompatible with EU law.

The case reached the Supreme Court which referred it to the ECJ last February under the “preliminary reference procedure” as it concerned a matter of EU law.

Minority Report

Last month, the ECJ ruled in two similar cases involving the retention of data by UK, French and Belgian authorities.

It stated that legislation requiring the general and indiscriminate retention of data is not compatible with EU law except in very specific circumstances. In such cases, safeguarding legislation must be in place setting out review procedures and time limits for data retention.


The rulings have led to concern among Irish prosecutors. “It seems the European Court of Justice has decided that retention of data must only take place in very considered circumstances and only where there is a level of proof already,” one senior Irish official told an online conference last week.

“To put it in crude terms, it reminds me of the movie Minority Report where you need an element of clairvoyance in advance to know that a crime will be committed in the future to apply for retention of the data on today’s date,” they said.

“It is very difficult for the Garda or the police service in each individual member state to access information if the information is never being retained to begin with. It’s a conundrum.”.

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