Operation Alpine

Operation Alpine was an exceptional case relating to the worldwide distribution of indecent images of children. From computer servers based at times in the United States the defendants were alleged to have run internet “Usenet Newsgroups” which permitted like-minded individuals to swap information and images in a wholly uncensored forum.

This case was totally novel in that it was not alleged that the defendants had themselves posted indecent images nor had they necessarily openly encouraged that. Their actions had not gone beyond offering an uncensored internet service and turning a blind eye to whatever went on.

There had never been a case of its type before and we led the way for the defence by arguing that no crime had been committed due to the provisions of the European Directive on Electronic Commerce. That, we argued, provided a defence because the defendants had only ever acted as a conduit through which the material might pass, but had never had involvement with the material themselves.

We further argued that the interpretation of the relevant law, which had been passed by Parliament in 1978, long before the days of the internet, did not cover distribution in the way alleged.

The case was so complicated that we and the other defence teams instructed QCs to argue the point, but in the event our in-house advocate presented the points in front of a High Court Judge. Although the Judge ruled against us it was notable that he referred to the majority of our written argument in his judgment, and the points we raised had been adopted by the silks (QCs) appearing for the other defendants.

The evidence was exceedingly technical, as was the legal submission, with witnesses appearing by video link from all over the world, and 10,000 pages of evidence to consider. It was also necessary to consider large quantities of European law and cases from other jurisdictions, because the law is still developing on a case by case basis in this area.

In the event the only defendant to be acquitted in the case was one we represented.