Police are not permitted to use taped interviews with crime suspects for voice analysis in investigations into unrelated offences, High Court judges have ruled.
Lawyers for a teenager facing charges over a bomb discovery in north Belfast claimed the verdict represents a significant prohibition on any such practices.
Conal Corbett, 19, was arrested as part of an investigation into the sophisticated device found at the junction of the Crumlin Road and Brompton Park in May last year.
Following his detention under the Terrorism Act 2000 he was taken to Antrim Serious Crime Suite where he failed to answer any questions.
Requests from his solicitor for an undertaking that any recording of his voice during interviews would not be retained for use in alternative or future investigations were refused by the PSNI.
Corbett, with an address at Flax Street in the city, subsequently remained silent on legal advice.
He is currently on bail charged with possessing articles and having documents likely to be of use to terrorists.
His lawyers launched judicial review proceedings seeking a declaration that the PSNI’s policy to record and/or retain suspects’ voices is unlawful.
The court heard how a senior detective stated in affidavit that police do not hold any other voice recordings on Corbett other than the tapes from last May’s interviews.
However, files on a computer seized as part of the investigation contain samples of his voice.
The legal challenge centred on a codes of practice about audio recordings of those detained and questioned under the 2000 Act.
Delivering judgment, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan noted an interpretation advances on behalf of the PSNI that tapes could be used for any police purposes.
“Such a broad entitlement gives rise to the risk of arbitrary use absent any express conditions or protections,” he said.
Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Weatherup and Weir, preferred an interpretation about tape destruction pointing to working copies only being used for matters connected to the investigation on which the interview is based.
He concluded: “The interview working tapes retained under the audio code can only be used in criminal or civil proceedings, or an investigation of a complaint of ill treatment, related to the interviews conducted with the person detained.
“In light of this finding we do not consider it necessary to make any declaration.”