Intercepting mail after delivery to the address

10 October 2018

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question:

A woman has reported that her estranged husband, whilst still living at the family home, has opened her mail and hidden the opened letters under a wardrobe to keep them from her.

Does this constitute an offence?

Answer:

Offences to consider are:

1. Intentionally delaying or opening a postal packet in the course of its transmission under section 84(1) of the Postal Act 2000:

'84(1) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he -

(a) intentionally delays or opens a postal packet in the course of its transmission by post, or
(b) intentionally opens a mail-bag.'

2. Unlawful interception under section 3 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA) (This offence has replaced the offence in section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

'3(1) A person commits an offence if -

(a) the person intentionally intercepts a communication in the course of its transmission by means of -

(i) a public telecommunication system,
(ii) a private telecommunication system, or
(iii) a public postal service,

(b) the interception is carried out in the United Kingdom, and
(c) the person does not have lawful authority to carry out the interception.'

When considering either of these offences, the issue is whether the mail, once delivered to the address, is still deemed to be 'in the course of transmission'.

The meaning of 'in the course of transmission' for either offence is provided by section 125(3) of the Postal Services Act 2000 (section 4(7) of the IPA applies this meaning to the section 3 offence) which states:

'postal packet - in course of transmission
shall be taken to be in course of transmission by post from the time of its being delivered to any post office or post office letter box to the time of its being delivered to the addressee.'

There is no further clarification provided upon the meaning 'delivered to the addressee'. The legislation however clearly states addressee (the person) as opposed to address (the property). In our opinion, if the addressee is no longer living at an address then an offence is more likely to be made out. However, if the addressee still lives at the address then this may be open to interpretation and would ultimately be a matter for the CPS and court to decide.

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