ARTICLE 8 CHALLENGE TO ENHANCED CRIMINAL RECORDS REGIME FAILS (AT FIRST INSTANCE)

February 10th, 2012 by Robin Hopkins

Yesterday, the High Court(Kenneth Parker J) gave judgment in R (T) v (1) Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, (2) Secretary of State for the Home Department (Secretary of State for Justice an interested party) [2012] EWHC 147 (Admin). The judgment is available here:  T_v_Greater_Manchester_Police.

In July 2002, the Claimant was 11 years old. He received a warning (a private procedure, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) from Greater Manchester Police for the theft of two bicycles. His subsequent conduct was apparently exemplary. By section 113B of the Police Act 1997, Enhanced Criminal Record Certificates (ECRCs) must contain all convictions, cautions and warnings. The Claimant, a 20-year old student applying for a sports studies course, obtained his ECRC in December 2010. It contained details of the bike theft warning.

He argued that the inflexible requirement under the 1997 Act for all convictions, cautions and warnings to be disclosed in ECRCs was incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR.

With overt reluctance, Kenneth Parker J dismissed the claim. His decision was based on the analysis of R (L) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2009] UKSC 3 [2010] 1 AC 410, where the majority of the Supreme Court decided that the disclosure of “information” (under s. 115(6) of the 1997 Act) potentially breached Article 8. Such a breach would be justified only if (a) the information is relevant to the decision for which the ECRC is required, and (b) disclosure is proportionate, taking into account factors such as the gravity of the material, the reliability of the information on which it was based, the relevance of the material to the particular job application, the period since the relevant events and the impact on the applicant of including the material in the ECRC.

The disclosure of “information” was, however, a separate matter from the disclosure of convictions, cautions and warnings. It was clear from L that, insofar as it required the latter, the 1997 Act was not open to challenge under Article 8.

Kenneth Parker J had great sympathy with the Claimant’s analogy with R (F) v Justice Secretary [2010] UKSC 17; [2011] 1 AC 331, in which the subjecting of the claimants to indefinite reporting requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was found to violate their rights under Article 8. As in F, the provisions under challenge in the present case provided for no reviews, and no exceptions. This caused the learned judge great concern. He observed that:

“… a system that allows no exceptions imposes a very heavy cost in terms of effect on the fundamental rights protected by Article 8 ECHR.  I am not persuaded that the marginal benefit that a system which admits no exceptions brings to, admittedly important, competing interests is justified as a matter of proportionality when the serious detrimental effects of such a system, particularly on child offenders, are weighed in the balance.  A system that permitted exceptions would probably be more prone to error, but only marginally so if the criteria for review were themselves conservative and risk averse.  The consequential improvement to the protection of Article 8 rights on the other hand, would be likely to be substantial.”

Nonetheless, his hands were tied by L: the requirement to disclose convictions, cautions and warnings did not violate Article 8. It may be a “bright line rule”, and arguably a harsh one, but the law has condoned such rules in other circumstances (see for example R (Animal Defenders International) v Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport [2008] 1 AC).

The Claimant also sought to challenge the lawfulness of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 – which removes, in certain circumstances, the protections concerning spent convictions. This claim failed for the same reasons. Kenneth Parker J added this notable observation:

“In these circumstances I do not believe that there is any real independent issue about the legality of the Order under Article 8 ECHR.  The conclusion must be the same.  However, I should perhaps add that the reverse argument does not necessarily apply.  In other words, even if it were disproportionate under Article 8 ECHR for the state to disclose, say, a warning long ago given to a child for a minor criminal matter, it would not automatically be an infringement if the state permitted a private employer to enquire about all criminal convictions, to insist on truthful answers and to take appropriate action in response to the answers given.”

The learned judge also observed that, if he had had to decide the issue of whether the state had a positive obligation in these circumstances, he would have found that it did not.

The claims were accordingly dismissed. However, given their general importance and Kenneth Parker J’s reluctant conclusions, he granted leave to appeal.

11KBW’s Jason Coppel appeared for the Secretaries of State.

Robin Hopkins

THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S ROLE UNDER THE DPA

December 13th, 2011 by Rachel Kamm

An interesting issue about the scope of the DPA arose in The Law Society and others v Rick Kordowski [2011] EWHC 3185 (QB). The Law Society and a number of firms of solicitors sought an injunction requiring the Defendant, the publisher of the “Solicitors from Hell” website, to cease publication of the website in its entirety and to restrain him from publishing any similar website. The causes of action relied upon were libel, harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The Defendant was the data controller of personal data, including sensitive personal data (for example, allegations made by a third party on the Defendant’s website about the alleged commission of an offence by a solicitor). Mr Justice Tugendhat did not mince his words in finding that the Defendant was in breach of the DPA:

In breach of the First Data Protection Principle the Defendant has not processed the personal data of the solicitors and other individuals named on the Website fairly and lawfully. The Defendant has processed the said personal data in a grossly unfair and unlawful way by, in particular, (a) publishing highly offensive defamatory allegations about these solicitors and other individuals on the Website; (b) pursuing a course of conduct against these solicitors and other individuals that amounts to harassment contrary to the PHA; (c) on numerous occasions refusing to remove the posting about a solicitor or other individual unless the Defendant is paid a fee. This is not permitted by law and is disreputable. (d) None of the conditions in Schedule 2 of the DPA 1998 is met by the Defendant in respect of the processing of the said personal data on the Website.

In breach of the Fourth Data Protection Principle the personal and sensitive personal data about solicitors and other individuals processed by the Defendant and published on the Website is not accurate, indeed it is usually seriously inaccurate. The Claimants rely upon the following, amongst other matters: (a) The wholly inaccurate and untrue allegations processed and published by the Defendant via the Website about the Third Claimant; (b) The Schedule of Complaints which sets out and describes how the personal data of solicitors and other individuals processed and published by the Defendant via the Website is inaccurate. (c) The Defendant’s failed attempts to justify defamatory allegations in the many cases brought against him for libel in respect of the defamatory publications on the Website as evidence of inaccurate information; in breach of the Sixth Data Protection Principle the Defendant did (and does) not process personal data of the solicitors and other individuals who are Individual Complainants in accordance with their rights, as he has failed to comply with the request made in the Complaints’ solicitor’s letter dated 12 August 2011.

…on 12 August 2011 the Claimants’ solicitor gave the Defendant formal notice under section 10(1) of the DPA that the individual complainants, who include the Third Claimant, required the Defendant to cease the processing of their personal data (i.e. to remove the offending material from the Website and destroy any copies retained elsewhere) as the processing of this data was (and continues) causing them unwarranted damage and distress. Additionally, the Claimants’ solicitor required the Defendant to agree not to process any data in the manner complained of in the future. As a result of the Defendant’s failure to comply with the Notice, he has breached the Sixth Data Protection Principle. The Defendant did not state that he considered the notice to be unjustified (as he could have done under section 10(3)(b) of the DPA).”

Not surprisingly, given these findings, Mr Justice Tugendhat concluded that the Third Claimant was entitled to an order under section 10(4), requiring the Defendant to comply with the Notice. He went on to comment on the scope of the DPA and the Information Commissioner’s powers.  The background was that the Chief Executive of the Law Society had written to the Information Commissioner to complain about the website. The Information Commissioner had responded that the DPA was not designed to deal with this kind of case. The Commissioner considered that it was “not the purpose of the DPA to regulate an individual right to freedom of expression – even where the individual uses a third party website, rather than his own facilities, to exercise this“. He relied on section 36 DPA, which provides that “Personal data processed by an individual only for the purposes of that individual’s personal, family or household affairs (including recreational purposes) are exempt from the Data Protection principles under provisions of Parts II [rights of data subjects and others] and III [Notification by data controllers]“. The Commissioner also highlighted the practical difficulties of trying to use the DPA to regulate material posted on websites.

Mr Justice Tugendhat expressed considerable sympathy with the Commissioner’s comments about the practical difficulties in cases such as this. However, his starting point was that the offensive comments on the website in question were unlawful and that the DPA required that data be processed lawfully. He did not see how the exemption in section 36 DPA could apply in this case.  Mr Justice Tugendhat commented that had  the Defendant been publishing information in the public interest on his website, he could have relied on the exemption relating to journalism in section 32 DPA. Further, the fact that a claimant may have claims under common law torts or the Human Rights Act 1998, did not prevent enforcement under the DPA. He concluded by commenting that where there is any room for argument as to whether processing is unlawful under the general law, it may be more appropriate that a complainant should be required to pursue his remedy in the courts and further that there be many grounds on which the Commissioner may properly decline to exercise his powers under Part V DPA. However, where there is no room for argument that processing is unlawful, it was more difficult to say that the matter was not one which could be dealt with under Part V DPA. This ruling potentially has significant implications for the Commissioner in practice.

Rachel Kamm

Launch of Information Law Reports

July 19th, 2011 by Rachel Kamm

 The Information Law Reports launched on 14 July 2011, with the following announcement on 11KBW’s website:

Leading chambers 11KBW and legal publisher Justis Publishing are collaborating in a first for both organisations: the creation of a new series of law reports available both in bound volumes from next week and on the established Justis platform from this morning.

Information law is ever more important, seeking to balance the “right to know” and the “right to be left alone” in an age of massive databases and global information flows. We all want to protect our own privacy; but we also want to understand how public authorities make decisions and spend our money. This new series will help professionals grapple with these issues.

Timothy Pitt-Payne QC, a barrister at 11KBW and one of the editors of the new reports, said: “There is a growing case-law, generated by the specialist Information Rights Tribunal and the higher courts. Navigating this material and quickly identifying the most important recent developments is increasingly challenging. The Information Law Reports seek to meet this need, bringing together all the most important cases in a single source. 11KBW are delighted to be working with Justis on this much-needed project.

Masoud Gerami, Managing Director of Justis Publishing, said: “We have had a number of significant milestones in our 25-year history, mostly associated with innovation and developments which have changed legal information dissemination for the better. I am delighted that another milestone has been added to our list of achievements by producing the new series of Information Law Reports in association with 11KBW, the leaders in this increasingly important field. I believe that the complementary nature of the expertise from the partners in this project is the ideal requirement for any successful product or service, and we look forward to a continued relationship with 11KBW.”

He added: “This is also the first time that Justis Publishing has produced a product in hard copy, and we are very excited about the possibilities that the combination of hard copy and online versions will present.

For further information, please call +44 (0)20 7267 8989 or email press@justis.com.

PERSONAL DATA: CRUCIAL POINTS FROM THE ‘ABORTION STATISTICS’ CASE

June 14th, 2011 by Robin Hopkins

Judgment in Department of Health v IC [2011] EWHC 1430 (Admin) – the ‘abortion statistics’ appeal – was handed down on 20 April this year. Cranston J’s judgment has now been made available. The following salient points from that judgment may be of use to those interested in the concept and extent of ‘personal data’ under s. 40 FOIA and the DPA – especially when looking at the grey area of statistics or other anonymous data which is rooted in or derived from other data which is more overtly personal. The judgment is also essential reading for anyone grappling with the application of the leading House of Lords decision on this subject, Common Services Agency v Scottish Information Commissioner [2008] UKHL47, [2008] 1 WLR 1550 (‘CSA’). (‘Grappling’ is probably apt: even Cranston J conceded that “it would be wrong to pretend that the interpretation of the CSA case is an easy matter”).

Briefly by way of background: the Department refused a request for detailed statistics on the number of late-term abortions carried out on prescribed grounds. It relied on s. 40 FOIA, basing its case on the risk that, given the ‘low cell counts’ in these categories, the relevant patients and/or doctors might be identified by those sufficiently motivated to do so. The Commissioner found that these statistics were not personal data. The Information Tribunal agreed with the Department that they did constitute personal data, but was not satisfied that s. 40 was effective, as there was insufficient risk of identification.

On the Department’s appeal to the High Court, Cranston J agreed with the Commissioner that these statistics are not personal data.

One route to that conclusion was that advocated by the Commissioner, namely to adopt the approach of Baroness Hale in CSA: anonymised statistics remain personal data and therefore subject to the protection of the DPA in the hands of the data controller (who possesses the underlying data from which individuals could be identified) but not in the hands of the general public (who do not). This approach commended itself to the Upper Tribunal in the recent case of All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition v Information Commissioner [2011] UKUT 153 AAC (on which, see my post here).

Cranston J, however, rejected that route, as it was the reasoning of Lord Hope rather than Baroness Hale in CSA which had attracted the majority’s support in that case. Lord Hope’s approach can be paraphrased as follows. The definition of personal data under s. 1 DPA provides for two means of identification: either from the data itself (inapplicable in the case of anonymous statistics) or from “from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller”. Lord Hope’s approach to situations such as this is to ask: does the ‘other information’ (if provided to the hypothetical member of the public) add anything to the statistics which would enable them to identify the underlying individuals? If the answer is no, the statistics are not personal data. The underlined words are important: if identification can be achieved from the ‘other information’ in isolation (rather than when added to the statistics) then the statistics themselves are truly anonymous, and are not personal data. The statistics in this case failed Lord Hope’s test, and were thus not personal data.

Cranston J’s conclusion was that the Tribunal had been correct to conclude that the data was ‘truly anonymised’ – but it had erred in treating this as personal data which had been truly anonymised. The Department contended that, because it held the underlying identification data, the abortion statistics remained personal data in all circumstances. Cranston J rejected this submission, stating that:

“If that were the case, any publication would amount to the processing of sensitive personal data…  Thus, the statistic that 100,000 women had an abortion in a particular year would constitute personal data about each of those women, provided that the body that publishes this statistic has access to information which would enable it to identify each of them.  That is not a sensible result and would seriously inhibit the ability of healthcare organisations and other bodies to publish medical statistics”.

In going on to dismiss the Department’s other grounds of appeal, Cranston J made a number of other points of general application. For example, in rejecting the criticism that the Tribunal had failed adequately to engage with the Department’s expert evidence, Cranston J said this:

“To begin, the issue before the Tribunal was one of assessment: the likelihood that a living individual could be identified from the statistics.  That was in my judgment only partly a question of statistical expertise, as regards matters such as the sensitivity of the data.  Partly, also, it was a matter of assessing a range of every day factors, such as the likelihood that particular groups, such as campaigners, and the press, will seek out information of identity and the types of other information, already in the public domain, which could inform the search.  These are factors which the Tribunal was in as good a position to evaluate as the statistical experts, a point which one of the Department of Health’s experts conceded.  The analysis also applies to the evidence of senior civil servants.”

As regards the Department’s contentions that conditions from Schedules 2 and 3 of the DPA were not met, their points were “wounding” to the Tribunal’s judgment, but not “fatal”, in light of the evidence at the Tribunal hearing. Finally, Cranston J described the Department’s argument based on Article 8 ECHR as “very much a jury argument”.

Interestingly, on the same day as judgment was given in this case, the High Court (Kenneth Parker J) gave judgment in R (BT & Anor) v The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [2011] EWHC 1021 (Admin)  – BT’s unsuccessful application for judicial review of the Digital Economy Act 2010 (on which, see my piece here). One of the grounds of challenge was alleged non-compliance with the Data Protection Directive. In that judgment, IP addresses (anonymous strings of numbers linked to internet subscribers’ accounts) were treated as personal data even in the hands of copyright owners who possessed only those IP addresses. This was by application of the definition of personal data under the Directive: here copyright owners were deemed likely to come into possession of the underlying personal data when taking legal action against the individual internet subscribers who downloaded content in breach of copyright. This conclusion was reached independently of the Lord Hope test. Note, however, that it seems from the judgment that this question – are IP addresses always personal data or not – was not argued in full before Kenneth Parker J. There is talk of a potential appeal, so the application of these principles to IP addresses might be considered in the courts again before too long.

Robin Hopkins

TWO HIGH COURT ‘PERSONAL DATA’ JUDGMENTS: DIGITAL ECONOMY ACT 2010 AND ABORTION STATISTICS

April 20th, 2011 by Robin Hopkins

The High Court has today handed down two judgments of some significance in the context of personal data.

This morning, Kenneth Parker J gave judgment in the application brought by BT and TalkTalk for judicial review of the Digital Economy Act 2010 (on which, see my earlier discussion here). The Act seeks to combat illegal file-sharing by allowing copyright owners to detect apparently unlawful online activity and report it to the suspect’s internet service provider, who must then warn the suspect against repeat infringements. The claimants contended, among other things, that this regime breached EU data protection law. Their claim failed on this and three other grounds, succeeding only with their fifth ground, which contended that internet service providers should not have to foot 25% of the bill for the regime imposed by the Act. Read the DCMS’ press release here.

This afternoon, Cranston J gave judgment in the “abortion statistics” appeal (on which, see my earlier Panopticon post here). The Information Tribunal had upheld the Commissioner’s decision to order disclosure of “low cell count” statistics as to the number of abortions carried out on specified grounds. Argument had focused on the risk of doctors, and in particular patients being identified. The Department of Health’s appeal to the High Court was dismissed. The judgment represents a notable development in jurisprudence on personal data.

More analysis to follow when these judgments are made available.

LOCAL AUTHORITY ORDERED TO RETAIN COURT JUDGMENT IN INDIVIDUAL’S FILE

January 5th, 2011 by Robin Hopkins

The Administrative Court’s (as yet unreported) judgment in R (on the application of N) v a Local Authority in December 2010 saw the quashing of a decision to withdraw a licence to be in contact with children. The case concerned the familiar public law principles of judicial review and human rights, but from an information law perspective, the point of interests is this: in reaching its decision to withdraw the individual’s licence, the local authority compiled information on that individual, including the allegations made against him (namely, that he was a paedophile with a history of sexual offences) as well as its meetings with the individual. Ockleton J not only overturned the local authority’s decision, but also directed it to keep a copy of the judgment with its records relating to the matter, so that its records on this individual were full and accurate. Otherwise, he ruled, the local authority’s file on this individual was potentially misleading to anyone subsequently accessing it.

Using Special Advocates in Civil Litigation

November 19th, 2009 by Anya Proops

Yesterday, the High Court handed down a controversial judgment on the use of ‘the closed material procedure’ (CMP) in civil litigation: Al-Rawi & Ors v The Security Service & Ors (judge – Silber J). The background to the judgment is that a number of individuals who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay had brought claims for damages against the defendants on the basis that they had caused or contributed to the claimants’ unlawful detention and ill-treatment by foreign governments. A preliminary issue then arose in these cases as to whether the defendants could put evidence before the court using the CMP. The CMP, in effect, allows defendants to put documents in evidence before the court whilst at the same time withholding them from the claimants. The only way in which the claimants have any say on the closed material is through the use of special advocates appointed to act on their behalf. However, the role of special advocates is heavily circumscribed, not least because they cannot convey to their clients the content of the closed material.

 

The CMP has formerly been used in the context of deportation appeals heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). However, the CMP has not previously been a feature of civil litigation. Instead, in the context of civil litigation, if the government was concerned that the disclosure of particular information would be contrary to the public interest, the best it could hope for was to rely on the public interest immunity (PII) procedure. The crucial difference between the PII procedure and the CMP is that the former procedure operates so as to ensure that the PII material is not put before the court at all, whereas the latter procedure allows the government to put the closed material before the judge whilst at the same time not disclosing that material to the other side. Thus, there is an inherent asymmetry present in the CMP which is not present in the PII procedure.

 

In a controversial judgment, Silber J decided as a preliminary issue that use of the CMP was permissible in a civil claim for damages, albeit only in exceptional cases. In reaching this conclusion, Silber J rejected arguments that the High Court had no jurisdiction to permit the use of the CMP; that use of the CMP was inconsistent with the requirements of the CPR and that it was otherwise at odds with the established PII procedure. It is highly likely that this judgment will go on appeal. 11KBW’s Karen Steyn acted on behalf of the defendants.

‘Meta-requests’ and Late Exemptions – High Court Judgment

August 3rd, 2009 by Anya Proops

In Home Office & Ministry of Justice v IC (EA/2008/062), the Information Tribunal held that the Home Office had erred in refusing to disclose information which revealed how internally it had dealt with some 48 FOIA requests which had previously been made by a particular media organisation. In particular, it held that the Home Office had not been entitled to treat that information as exempt under section 36 FOIA (prejudice to public affairs). The High Court has now upheld the Tribunal’s decision on appeal by the Home Office – see Home Office & Ministry of Justice v IC [2009] EWHC 1611 (Admin). Notably, the High Court declined to decide the question of how the Tribunal should respond to a public authority which sought to invoke exemptions for the first time before the Tribunal. The Home Office had sought to argue, contrary to existing Tribunal orthodoxy (see particularly Department for Business and Regulatory Reform v IC & Friends of the Earth (EA/2007/0072)), that the Tribunal had no discretion to refuse late reliance on exemptions and that a public authority was, in effect, automatically entitled to invoke new exemptions at any stage in the process. The Commissioner invited the Court to approve the orthodox position. Keith J held that he ought not to decide this particular issue given that it had effectively become academic on the facts of the appeal. 

Blogger’s Identity Not Private Information

June 17th, 2009 by Anya Proops

Yesterday, the High Court handed down an important judgment on the application of the law of privacy to anonymous bloggers. The case involved a detective constable, Mr Horton, whose anonymous blog, ‘Night Jack’, gave a behind-the-scenes insight into modern policing. The prize-winning blog attracted a huge following. When a journalist at the time discovered Mr Horton’s identity by carrying out his own detective work, Mr Horton sought and was granted an injunction restraining the Times from revealing his identity. However, that injunction was lifted in a judgment handed down on 16 June 2009 by Eady J: The Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Ltd [2009] EWHC 1358 (QB).

 

The central issue in the case was whether the developing law of privacy entitled Mr Horton to retain anonymity in respect of the blog. Eady J held that the injunction should be lifted because Mr Horton had failed to demonstrate that there was a legally enforceable right to maintain anonymity in respect of his identity. In reaching this conclusion, Eady J applied a two stage test: first, he considered whether Mr Horton had established that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of his blogging activities; second, he considered whether, if there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, that expectation was nonetheless overridden by the public interest in disclosure.  Eady J found that Mr Horton lost on the first limb of the test because the essentially public nature of his blogging activity meant that, judged objectively, Mr Horton could not reasonably expect that his identity would be treated as private information. Having decided the case against Mr Horton on this basis, Eady J nonetheless went on to consider the public interest arguments. With respect to those arguments, he held that there was in any event an overwhelming public interest in disclosure of the information. This was the case particularly given the public interest in revealing that the person making critical and politically controversial comments about the force through the blog was himself a particular serving police officer. In reaching these conclusions, Eady J rejected arguments to the effect that the injunction should be maintained given the risk that disclosure of his identity would increase the risk that Mr Horton would face disciplinary action.

OGC publishes Gateway Reviews

March 19th, 2009 by Timothy Pitt-Payne QC

Following a decision of the Information Tribunal issued on 19th February, the OGC has published two Gateway Reviews into the ID cards scheme.

The OGC announcement is here (with a link to the documents themselves). The Information Tribunal decision is here, on the Tribunal’s website. This case was previously the subject of a High Court appeal (from an earlier Tribunal decision).