Paedophile Hunter groups impersonate children online to lure persons into making inappropriate or sexualised communications with them over the internet, and then provide the material generated by such contact to the police. Importantly, they operate without police authorisation. There has been a huge rise in the number of prosecutions in recent years where crucial evidence has been secured by paedophile hunter groups. In 2019, the Telegraph reported that paedophile hunters were responsible for more than half of grooming prosecutions in England & Wales.

In Sutherland v Her Majesty’s Advocate, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the issue of whether prosecutions based on evidence gathered in covert sting operations by paedophile hunter groups are compatible with a person’s human rights. The legal case was brought by a convicted paedophile who argued that by admitting evidence obtained by a paedophile hunting group, his right to a private life (enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) had been breached.

But the court ruled unanimously that the interests of children have priority over any interest a paedophile could have in being allowed to engage in criminal conduct. The Court held that such evidence obtained by paedophile hunters can be used in criminal trials and that doing so does not breach a defendant’s human rights.

Lord Sales delivered the judgement via video link, stating that the panel of five justices found there was no interference with the accused’s rights under Article 8.

He said this was for two reasons – the first being that “the activity in question should be capable of respect”, and that children also have rights.

Lord Sales said the state had “a special responsibility to protect children against sexual exploitation by adults”.

“This indicates that there is no protection under Article 8 for the communications by the accused in this case.” he said.

“The interests of children have priority over any interest a paedophile could have in being allowed to engage in the criminal conduct in issue here.”. The state must “deter offences against children” and so prosecutors were entitled to use the evidence gathered by such paedophile hunter groups to secure convictions.

The full judgement can be read on the Supreme Court’s website here.