Court of Appeal gives important judgment concerning the use of facial recognition technology by the police service

11 August 2020

The Court of Appeal today handed down judgment in the appeal against the Divisional Court’s decision in R (Bridges) v Chief Constable of South Wales Police [2020] 1 WLR 672 (see here for the Divisional Court’s decision). 

The Divisional Court had held that the use by South Wales Police of facial recognition technology – called AFR Locate – to investigate, detect and prevent crime was lawful, and in particular that it complied with the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 2018. The case is the first in the world to consider the use by police of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies. The appeal was heard by the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Singh LJ (President of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal)). 

The Court of Appeal allowed part of the appeal. It held that for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 it was not necessary for primary legislation to be enacted to regulate the use of AFR Locate (and therefore the analogies with the taking of fingerprints and DNA under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 were inapposite).  However, it was necessary for greater specificity to be given (either within the Surveillance Camera Code and / or in policy documents) as to the categories of people in respect of whom AFR Locate might be used, and the locations of potential deployments. Additionally, it was necessary for further work to be undertaken to ensure that due regard is had to the potential for the technology to produce differential results in respect of different demographic groups.

South Wales Police is trialling the use of AFR Locate as part of a pilot project – as part of that trial, it co-operated in a consensual process to bring the issue of the sufficiency of the legal framework governing the use of this technology before the Court.  he way in which the Court has helpfully decided the appeal means that there will be no appeal against the outcome – instead, the judgment signposts the amendments that need to be made in order that AFR Locate can continue to assist in the investigation, detection and prevention of crime. 

Jason Beer QC and Francesca Whitelaw represented the Chief Constable of South Wales Police

  • Click here to read the Judgment
  • Click here to read the press summary produced by the Court


Jason Beer KC

Call 1992 | Silk 2011

Francesca Whitelaw KC

Call 2003 | Silk 2023


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