Quantifying Damages for Breach of Privacy

TLT and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2016] EWHC 2217 (QB)

How do you quantify damages for data breaches? Is the distress caused by an accidental data breach comparable to phone-hacking? Should damages for distress be equivalent to damages for psychiatric injuries?

In October 2013, the Home Office published statistics on its family returns process, the means by which children with no right to remain in the UK are sent back to their country of origin. In addition to anonymised statistics uploaded onto the government website, the Home Office mistakenly uploaded the spreadsheet of raw data on which those statistics were based. That spreadsheet included personal details such as names and rough geographical locations of applicants for asylum or leave to remain, though not their addresses. The data was online for 13 days before being removed, but a number of IP addresses in the UK and abroad visited the relevant web page.  Those concerned were notified, and brought claims under the Data Protection Act 1998 and the common law tort of misuse of private information.

As far as privacy breaches go, this appears less sinister than having the contents of your private telephone conversations splashed across the front pages. But consider the effect on these individuals at a time when their residence status is uncertain. Taking one example, an Iranian man – referred to as TLT – had applied for leave to remain with his family. They had been told that a member of their family had been detained in Iran and questioned about them. They reasonably believed that the Iranian authorities would have looked at the published details and, as a result, they feared for their lives if they were returned to Iran, their security in the UK and their extended family in Iran. A significant issue is how to quantify ‘distress’ of that nature for the purposes of claims brought.


It was not in dispute that the inadvertent publication of the information constituted misuse of private information and a breach of the first, second and seventh principles of the Data Protection Act. Neither was it in dispute that, following the Court of Appeal decision in Vidal-Hall v Google Inc [2015] EWCA Civ 311, a claimant can recover damages for ‘distress’ for such a breach.

But Mitting J’s judgment is interesting for two reasons. First, it tackled four questions which will provide guidance for similar claims in the future. Secondly, and perhaps more controversially, he considered the quantification of damages for individual breaches in this new and developing area of law.

  1. Can individuals who were not named in the data, but who were identifiable as family members, recover?

Simply, yes. Given that the data related to family asylum or leave to remain applications, Mitting J found that anyone with knowledge of the family would be able to identify the children and other family members from the lead applicant.

  1. Is there a level of distress which is below the threshold for the recovery of damages?

Again, and perhaps unsurprisingly, yes: the de minimis threshold which applies in personal injury cases also applies to data breaches.

  1. Should the courts take guidance from the damages awards in the phone-hacking cases – or, as Mitting J referred to them, “cases involving deliberate dissemination for gain by media publishers or individuals engaged in that trade, such as Max Clifford” [16]?

Without going into any detail, this idea was dismissed by Mitting J. The distress described by the claimants was comparable to a psychiatric injury suffered as a result of an actionable wrong.

  1. Can you recover damages for the loss of the right to control private information?

Yes – a claimant can recover for the loss of control of personal and confidential information but there is no separate and additional award. Rather, the judge takes it into account when making an award for distress.

Damages awards and Gulati

Mitting J made awards ranging from £2,500 to £12,500 for each claimant, using psychiatric and psychological damage cases as guideline comparators after carefully assessing the evidence of the applicants and the distress caused by the data breaches. In Gulati v MGN [2015] EWCA Civ 1291 – one of the phone-hacking cases – the Court of Appeal affirmed the principle that damages for non-pecuniary loss for the misuse of private information should have some “reasonable relationship” with damages for personal injury. Arden LJ explained the reason for this [61]:

“if there is no such consideration or relationship, the reasonable observer may doubt the logic of the law or form the view that the law places a higher value on a person’s right to privacy than it does on (say) a person’s lifelong disability as a result of another’s negligence, and this would bring the law into disrepute and diminish public confidence in the impartiality of the legal system.”

However, this rationale also undermines the very basis on which Mitting J made awards. A claimant in a psychiatric personal injury case must demonstrate that they have suffered a recognised psychiatric injury; simple distress is not sufficient. The awards in TLT take into account the loss of control of private information, but are predominantly awards for distress. None of the individuals were shown to have suffered a recognised psychiatric injury as a consequence of the publication of their details, yet their damages awards were made by comparison to those for recognised and diagnosed psychiatric injury.

In seeking consistency, this judgment sits uncomfortably with psychiatric damage cases. Was Arden LJ’s warning prophetic? If Mitting J’s approach is followed in the future, will the reasonable observer form the view that the law places a higher value on a person’s right to privacy than a lifelong disability?

Oliver Sanders and Michael Deacon of One Crown Office Row acted for the Defendants in this case. This blog post was written independently by Gideon Barth.

The subtle hand of human rights – and more Aarhus

1440788_1738fc0eR (o.t.a. Dowley) v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2016] EWHC 2618 (Admin) Patterson J, 20 October 2016 – read judgment

This challenge was about a landowner not wishing to let those wishing to develop Sizewell C nuclear power station onto her land to carry out surveys and investigations. But it came down to a disagreement about the terms which such entry might occur. For s.53 Planning Act 2008 enables the Secretary of State to allow such entry, subject to conditions, and with the proviso that the landowner may claim compensation for “damage caused to lands or chattels” (s.53(7)) via a claim to the Upper Tribunal.

The entry in question was not insubstantial; the developer wished to have access to some 75 acres of the 420 acres of the claimant’s estate, for surveys relating for possible spoil storage, roads and builders accommodation if the project was to proceed.

The major fall-out was over the issue of the extent of compensation. And this, as we shall see, is where human rights came in, albeit in a topsy-turvy way.

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A New Book on Parliaments and Human Rights Protection – Judge Robert Spano



On the occasion of the publication of the book Parliaments and the European Court of Human Rights by Professors Alice Donald and Philip Leach, Judge Robert Spano of the European Court of Human Rights comments on the general themes presented in the book and its contribution to the ongoing debate on the European Convention on Human Rights and the Principle of Subsidiarity.

A culture of human rights in national parliaments

The effective implementation of human rights requires a culture of human rights at all levels of government as well as in society in general. Therefore, it is a possibly trans­formative development in European human rights law that the role of national parliaments in the realisation of human rights protection within the Convention system has increasingly become a focus-point in recent years, both at the level of policy within the Council of Europe, but as well, and importantly, at the level of adjudication of actual human rights cases in the Strasbourg Court.

This new book provides an excellent overview of this important development, by highlighting the arguments in favour of a more parliamentary-focussed human rights jurisprudence, while at the same time identifying the potential risks to be addressed in future cases.

As a serving judge of the Strasbourg Court, I would like to make a couple of remarks on the core of the normative argument in this regard, as developed by the authors, on the relationship between human rights, democratic governance and legitimate authority.

The first is a doctrinal point, while the second is more practical.

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Do the EU’s rules on standing square up to the principle of effective judicial protection? – Michael Rhimes

scales of justice Old BaileyUnderstanding Standing: Post 3 of 3 of Article 263(4) TFEU

This is a final post in a series of three on standing in EU law. It will focus on whether the present position under Art 263(4) TFEU satisfies the principle of effective judicial protection.

Part I) Effective judicial remedies.

Effective judicial protection is of a long pedigree. We can trace an embryonic form of this right in the Magna Carta of 1215 which provides, in Article 29, that “no freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseised of his (…) liberties (…) save by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. To no-one will we sell or deny or delay right or justice” (See also Arts 11 to 13). It also emerged fairly early on in the jurisprudence of the European Union in the mid-1980s, with the CJEU starting to toy with the idea that the effectiveness of EU law could impose certain obligations at the domestic level in order to ensure that effectiveness, Case C-14/83 Von Colson and more famously Case C-410/92 Johnson. The principle can now can be found enshrined in Art 47 of the Charter, as follows: 

Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial

Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in this Article. (…)

This Charter has equal status to the other two Treaties constituting the EU, the TEU and TFEU (see TEU, Art 6(1)) Thus, as has been stressed on many an occasion, the very applicability of EU law entails the applicability of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter. In other words, effective judicial protection is a fundamental postulate of EU law – where there is EU law there must be effective judicial protection.  Continue reading

Prosecution of Italian traffickers can go ahead even after Romania’s accession to EU

italy_immigrationPaoletti and others (Judgment) [2016] EUECJ C-218/15 (6 October 2016) – read judgment

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that people smugglers can be punished even if the illegal immigrants themselves have subsequently gained EU citizenship by dint of the relevant country’s accession to the EU.

Legal and factual background

The accused in the main proceedings had illegally obtained work and residence permits for 30 Romanian nationals in 2004 and 2005, before the accession of Romania to the EU. They were therefore charged with having organised the illegal entry of these Romanian nationals “in order to benefit from intensive and ongoing exploitation of foreign labour”. This law was introduced to the Italian criminal code in accordance with the EU directive requiring the prevention and punishment of people smuggling (Article 3 of Directive 2002/90 and Article 1 of Framework Decision 2002/946, which provide that such an offence is to be punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties). Continue reading

Duplication in inquests

The Divisional Court in R(Secretary of State) v Her Majesty’s Chief Coroner for Norfolk (British Airline Pilots intervening) – read judgment here – made some potentially noteworthy comments regarding the coronial role and the need to avoid duplicating previous investigations.

The case was largely about whether a Coroner could order disclosure of the transcript and/or recording from a cockpit flight recorder by virtue of her powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. HM Senior Coroner for Norfolk was investigating the deaths of four men in a helicopter crash that had previously been investigated by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (the AAIB).

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Developments in the oversight of British Troops abroad – the Roundup



In the news

The oversight of the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq has been subject of two recent developments. The first is political, as Prime Minister Theresa May has renewed criticism of investigations into allegations of criminal behaviour of British troops. The second is legal, with the Court of Appeal offering clarification as to the role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad. However, comments by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have since thrown into doubt the future role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad.

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