Keeping Data Breaches in Proportion

The Judgment, given by Mr Justice Nicklin, in a reminder that claims must be pleaded and litigated proportionately.

The background was that the Defendant’s employee had sent a letter intended for the Claimant to an incorrect e-mail address belonging to a colleague. The Defendant readily admitted the error. The Claimant issued a claim in the High Court for breach of data protection legislation, misuse of private information and breach of confidence. The Claimant sought damages of £3,000.00 with a declaration that the Defendant’s actions constituted a misuse of private information and/or breach of data protection. The Claimant issued the claim in the High Court on the basis that their solicitors considered the matter should be dealt with under the specialist Media and Communications List. The Claimant also submitted a costs budget of over £46,000.

Mr Justice Nicklin was of the view that the matter could be heard in the County Court and it was neither necessary, nor proportionate for the Claimant to have pleaded multiple causes of action, particularly as the data breach was admitted. Furthermore the declaration was  unnecessary and accomplished nothing. He noted that:

“It is important that claimants (and those advising them) do not pursue claims that add little but yet have the potential to make the case more complicated and lead to increased costs ultimately to resolve what in many cases will be a straightforward claim.”

Ultimately Mr Justice Nicklin ordered that the claim be transferred to the County Court and allocated to the small claims track. The allocation was opposed by the Claimant, arguing that the imposition of small claim costs restrictions to such a matter would limit access to justice – the Court’s response to this was that “no ordinary litigant would incur costs approaching £50,000 to recover £3,000. In one of the concluding paragraphs of his Judgment Mr Justice Nicklin also provided a reminder of the vital role of the small claims track in facilitating access to justice:

“In my judgment, the circumstances and nature of the Claimant's claim does not justify being allocated anywhere other than the County Court and on the small claims track. That is, in one sense, good news for Mr Cleary. Unless he is guilty of unreasonable conduct, in the small claims jurisdiction he will not be exposed to the risk of any adverse order for costs. That is one of the important safeguards available in the County Court which promotes access to justice. It means that a citizen can bring a small claim before the court and receive an adjudication upon it. If the claim does not succeed, providing s/he has not acted unreasonably, s/he will not be exposed to an adverse order for the defendant's costs (save in very limited respects provided under the small claims track).”

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