Well, it is that time again; the beginning of a New Year and therefore time for my third annual look at what happened in the world of information law in the previous twelve months and what those with an interest in the field should be looking out for in 2020. I would like to begin by wishing all readers of the Information Law Blog, both new and old, a very happy New Year.
My reviews of 2017 and 2018 began by looking at the case of Various Claimants v WM Morrisons Supermarkets Limited. I shall keep the tradition going by looking once again at this case. In 2018, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by Morrisons against the decision of Mr Justice Langstaff holding them vicariously liable for the actions of an ex-employee. This case rumbled on again in 2019, with the Supreme Court hearing an appeal by Morrisons on 6th and 7th November. By the end of 2019, the Supreme Court had not yet issued its judgment and so that will be something to look out for in 2020; the Supreme Court’s judgment (although concerned with the Data Protection Act 1998, rather than the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018) will have ramifications for data subjects and controllers, regardless of which way it goes.
Brexit continued to be a feature of 2019 in the Information law world. We have seen the changes that will take effect in data protection law as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, which is now scheduled to take place at the end of this month. Brexit, however, will not stop being a feature of information law at 23:00 on 31st January (assuming there are no further delays). We will be in a transition period until the end of the year, but we don’t yet know exactly what we’re transitioning to which might start to become clearer by the Summer.
Brexit also featured in the information law world in other respects as well. There are still some data protection and privacy concerns floating around from the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Indirectly related to that have been proceedings in the Upper Tribunal involving UKIP and in also in the First-Tier Tribunal. If reports are anything to go by, proceedings in the First-Tier Tribunal at the end of 2019 could result in an extremely critical decision against the Commissioner, so that is something to look out for in 2020.
We also saw the first GDPR administrative fine issued in the UK by the Information Commissioner (some 19 or so months after the GDPR became applicable and quite a bit behind other regulators in other EU Member States). The Commissioner has issued two Notices of Intent against two other Controllers (that we’re aware of) both of which were due to expire this month, but it has been confirmed by the Information Commissioner that the statutory six month period has been extended by agreement (in accordance with the statutory provisions). The reasons for this have not been made public at this time.
Just before Christmas the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice gave his opinion in Data Protection Commissioner v Facebook Ireland & Schrems concerning standard contractual clauses. We can expect a decision from the European Court of Justice to follow soon, whether that is before or after “exit day” at the end of January remains to be seen.
In the wider field of privacy law, the Court of Appeal took a look at the judgment of Mr Justice Arnold in the case involving Channel 5’s fly-on-the-wall documentary ‘Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away’. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals by the Respondents in respect of liability and the cross-appeal by the Claimants on the issue of quantum of damages. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Lord Bannatyne (for the first time) declared that there exists in the law of Scotland a common law right to privacy.
In May, Information Notices were again a feature of the decisions flowing from the First-Tier Tribunal; this time, however, it was concerning the Commissioner’s powers under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Tribunal confirmed that the Commissioner can issue an information notice in order to obtain information as part of her process for determining whether a person is a public authority for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
In 2019, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee began undertaking Post-Legislative Scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. In 2019, I gave both written and oral [pdf] evidence to the Committee. The Committee is expected to release its report and recommendations next month.
In 2019, we saw the expansion of FOI in Scotland with Registered Social Landlords formally being designated as Scottish public authorities for the purposes of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
We also had one of those rare things: a decision from the Court of Session in an appeal against a decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner. In the sole decision in such an appeal issued by the Court of Session in 2019, my client successfully challenged (on a point of law) a finding by the Commissioner that information he had requested was not held by a local council for the purpose of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. This case provides some useful guidance on determining whether information is held, or not, for the purposes of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.