Report No. 38
Statutory Provisions in England as to Interception of Postal Articles
The following provisions in England may be noted:-
(1) Section 11(1)(b)(c), Post Office Act, 1953 (1 & 2 Eliz. 2, C. 36), penalising the sending of a postal packet containing indecent or obscene prints or articles or containing words etc., which are grossly offensive1.
(2) Section 11(3), Post Office Act, 1953 (1 & 2 Eliz. 2, C. 36), empowering the making of regulations for preventing sending or delivery of postal packets containing words, etc., of a libellous character.
(3) Section 17(1), Post Office Act, 1953 (1 & 2 Eliz. 2, C. 36), regarding the Postmaster-General's power to detain any postal packet suspected to contain goods chargeable with customs duty.
(4) Section 58(1), proviso, Post Office Act, 1953 (1 & 2 Eliz. 2, C. 36), which saves power of the Secretary of State to order by warrant in writing that letters passing through the Post Office may be opened or detained (extract attached).
(5) Under section 52 of the Telegraph Act, 1863 (26 & 27 Vict., C,. 112), the Secretary of State can by warrant, authorise such persons as he thinks fit to assume control of telegraph works where such action is "expedient for the public service2".
(6) Section 20. Telegraph Act, 1863 (31 & 32 Vict., C. 110). (Punishment of an official for disclosing or intercepting messages, contrary to his duty). (This legislation does not expressly cover telephones3).
1. Section 11(1)(b)(c), Post Office Act, 1953 91 & 2 Eliz. 2, C. 36), presumable is not governed by the lest laid down in the Obscene Publications Act, 1959. See Wade and Phillips Constitutional Law (1960), p. 549.
2. See Halsbury, 3rd Edn., Vol. 7, p. 379, para. 803(2).
3. The question of tapping telephones was considered in England in a Report of the Privy Councillors (1957) Cmd. 283; discussed in Wade and Phillips Constitutional Law, (1960), p. 178.
Extracts of sections 11(1)(b)(c), 11(3), 17(1) and 58(1) of the English
Post Office Act, 1953 (1 & 2 Eliz. 2, C. 36).
"11. Prohibition on sending by post of certain articles.-(1) A person shall not send or attempt to send or procures to be sent a postal packet which-
(b) encloses any indecent or obscene print, painting, photograph, lithograph, engraving cinematograph films, book, card or written communication, or any indecent or obscene article whether similar to the above or not; or
(c) has on the packet, or on the cover thereof, any words, marks or designs which are grossly offensive or of an indecent or obscene character.
(3) Post office regulations may be made for preventing the sending or delivery by post of any such articles as are mentioned in paragraph (b) or (c) of sub-section (1) of this section or of any postal packet having thereon, or on the cover thereof, any words, marks or designs of a libellous character.
17. Power to detain postal packets containing contraband.-
(1) Without prejudice to the last foregoing section, the Postmaster-General may detain any postal packet suspected to contain any goods chargeable with any customs duty which has not been paid or secured or any goods in the course of importation, exportation or removal into or out of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man contrary to any prohibition or restriction for the time being in force with respect thereto under or by virtue of any enactment and may forward the packet to the Commissioners of Customs and Excise.
(2) & (3)
58. Opening or delaying of postal packets by officers of the Post Office.-
(1) If any officer of the Post Office, contrary to his duty, opens, or procures or suffers to be opened, any postal packet in course of transmission by post, or wilfully detains or delays, or procures or suffers to be detained or delayed, any such postal packet, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and be liable to imprisonment or to a fine, or to both:
Provided that nothing in this section shall extend to the opening, detaining or delaying of a postal packet returned for want of a true direction, or returned by reason that the person to whom it is directed has refused it, or has refused or neglected to pay the postage thereof, or that the packet cannot for any other reason be delivered, or to the opening, detaining or delaying of a postal packet under the authority of this Act or in obedience to an express warrant in writing under the hand of a Secretary of State.