Right to fair hearing trumps DPA

Posted: 14th December 2012

In directing a local authority to disclose un-redacted copies of documents relating to a children’s home where a former resident claims to have been subjected to violent abuse, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the claimant’s right to a fair hearing outweighs privacy considerations under the Data Protection Act 1988 (DPA).

The claimant is suing Durham County Council for substantial damages, claiming that his treatment at the Aycliffe Young People’s Centre during the early 1980s, when he was aged between 11 and 14, has caused him serious psychiatric injury and has had devastating consequences for his later life.RCJ

His lawyers applied to the council for disclosure of personnel records relating to his alleged abusers and details of other residents at the home which they argued could provide invaluable support to his case. Although the council had disclosed numerous documents from the home's files, it argued that in many respects its hands were tied by the DPA. Inter alia, the council redacted the names of other boys who may have suffered or witnessed abuse.

A county court judge ruled in the claimant’s favour on the disclosure issue, ordering that ‘all files should be disclosed entirely un-redacted’ and the local authority’s challenge to that decision has now been dismissed by the Court of Appeal. The court ruled that the DPA was a ‘distraction’ in the circumstances of the case and that the provisions of the Civil Procedure Rules, designed to ensure that claimants receive a fair hearing after full disclosure of evidence, took precedence.

The court observed that, when the claimant’s case comes on for trial, appropriate safeguards can be put in place to ensure that ‘intensely personal information’, particularly that relating to non-party former residents of the home, is not released into the public domain.