Tag Archives: Court of Justice of the European Union

Data Protection, Brexit and the Charter of Fundamental Rights

On the face of it the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in Minister for Justice v O’Conner [2018] IESC 3 has no place on a blog focused on information law matters as they apply in Scotland and the wider United Kingdom.  The case involves a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by the United Kingdom and the surrender of the individual to the United Kingdom under that EAW.  The Irish Supreme Court has granted leave to Mr. O’Connor to appeal to it; this is so that a reference can to be made to the Court of Justice of the European Union.  The context of that reference is the giving of notice by the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union and that as a consequence the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.

It is not obvious what this has to do with information law at all; however, it might well have an impact upon the flow of personal data between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The UK Government has identified a number of ‘red lines’ in its negotiations with the European Union; one of those red lines is that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union will cease to apply to the United Kingdom when it leaves the European Union.  All of the public statements which have been made by Ministers is suggestive that the Charter will not be incorporated into UK domestic law and it will not agree to a treaty with the European Union which continues its application.  Whether or not that is the case at the end of the day remains to be seen; however, it is creating uncertainty.

My initial thoughts on this case are that it could be significant beyond the question of extradition under the EAW scheme.  From a reading of the judgment of the Irish Supreme Court, it is clear that there are fundamental issues of European Union Law to be addressed in this reference.

It is a consequence of the operation of Article 50 that at the end of the two year period provided for therein that the treaties cease to apply to the leaving State (subject to an agreement to extend the Article 50 period or any agreement between the EU and the leaving state which continues the application of EU law).  At its most basic, it means that European Union Law ceases to apply to the leaving state.  This is a very real problem and is the reason for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which has its aim to ensure that the domestic statute book works and certainty is given as to what the law in the United Kingdom is.

So, what precisely does this have to do with information law?  Articles 44-50 of the General Data Protection Regulation deal with transfers to third countries; a third country being a country which is outside of the Union.  Upon Brexit the United Kingdom will be outside of the Union and the flow of personal data from controllers and processors inside of the Union to controllers and processors in the United Kingdom will need to be in compliance with Articles 44-50 of the GDPR.

What most people in the data protection world are hoping for is that the United Kingdom will get a favourable adequacy decision from the European Commission; which will enable the free flow of personal data between the Union and the United Kingdom on much the same basis as it is presently while the United Kingdom remains part of the European Union.  However, many are sceptical as to whether the United Kingdom will be successful in gaining such a decision; it may not be enough simply to show that the GDPR still forms part of UK domestic law, but that is a topic for another blog post.

What appears to be the underlying issue in the reference being made by the Irish Supreme Court, is whether a person can be surrendered to the United Kingdom under a EAW while there is uncertainty about what the arrangements will be after Brexit in terms of that citizen’s rights under European Union Law.  The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union features a number of times in the judgment and seems to be one of the areas of EU law that is at issue (and Article 8 of the Charter guarantees rights to the protection of personal data).

It seems to me that if the opinion issued by the Court of Justice of the European Union in respect of the reference made is in any way supportive of Mr. O’Connor’s position, it could raise questions not only about personal data transferred between the Union and the UK post-Brexit; but also about personal data which is transferred pre-Brexit and which will continue to be processed in the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

This reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union is certainly one that data protection professionals ought to be keeping an eye on; it has the potential to cause severe headaches for controllers and processors who rely on personal data coming in from the other 27 members of the European Union.

Alistair Sloan

If you would like advice or assistance with a privacy or data protection matter, or any other information law concern then contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or send him an E-mail.

Information Law Review of 2017

2018 is now upon us and this is a big year in the field of Information Law, the General Data Protection Regulation will at last become applicable in the United Kingdom.  If you are a data controller or a data processor, your preparations for the GDPR should be well under way; however, if you have not yet started to prepare for these regulations then it is not yet too late.  The lesser known brother of the GDPR also kicks in this year, the Law Enforcement Directive, which governs the processing of personal data by law enforcement agencies.

However, before I get stuck into what is coming this year in the field of Information law, I want to take a moment to look back at some of the things that happened in 2017.  At the tail end of 2017 the High Court in England issued its anticipated judgment in the case of Various Claimants v WM Morrisons Supermarket PLC  [2017] EWHC 3113 (QB)This represented a significant development in the data protection field and opens up a much wider range of circumstances in which data subjects can sue a data controller under Section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

In October 2017, the Irish High Court made a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union at the request of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner seeking a preliminary ruling on “Privacy Shield”, the successor to the Safe Harbour rules which had previously been held to be unlawful by the European Court.

In September 2017, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision concerning the application of the right to a private and family life contained in Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights to the monitoring of a person’s communications by their employer.

Also in September 2017, the UK Government published its Data Protection Bill which will replace the Data Protection Act 1998, extends GDPR standards to areas not within the competence of the European Union and implements the Law Enforcement Directive, among other things.

Now looking ahead to 2018, it is possible that we might see a decision from the English Court of Appeal in the Morrisons case referred to above, the judge having granted permission to Morrisons to appeal his findings in relation to vicarious liability.  We may also see claims for compensation being made based upon the Morrisons decision.

In Scotland, we will be expecting to see some more progress made by the Scottish Parliament in its consideration of the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill.  I provided written evidence to the Education and Skills Committee on this Bill last year.  The Committee has had some difficulty in completing its Stage 1 consideration of the Bill and the previous deadline of 22 November 2017 for completion of Stage 1 was removed by the Scottish Parliament.

It is also possible that we will see the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-Legislative scrutiny Committee begin to undertake a post-legislative inquiry into the operation of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (or announce that such an inquiry will take place in due course).  If such an inquiry does take place, it will be the first time that there will have been a complete review of the Scottish FOI Act and how it is operating.

Staying on the subject of Freedom of Information in Scotland, we are likely to see the outcome of the Scottish Information Commissioner’s formal intervention in respect of the Scottish Government’s compliance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.  We are also likley to see an Order being made under Section 5 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 designating Registered Social Landlords as scottish public authorities with effect from 1st April 2019.

By the end of 2018 we should also hopefully have a much better idea as to what the UK’s relationship with the European Union will be after it leaves, and in particular what impact this will have on data protection and privacy law in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

There will no doubt be a raft of new court decisions in relation to both Privacy/Data Protection and Freedom of Information over the course of the next 12 months and I will attempt to address the most important and unusual decisions here on the Information Law Blog from Inksters Solicitors.

Alistair Sloan

If you would like advice or assistance with Privacy and Data Protection matters (including GDPR preparation) or with UK and Scottish Freedom of Information requests contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or you can E-mail him.