As a department that specialises in claims against Local Authorities we are experiencing a dramatic increase in complaints from clients whose personal information has been wrongly disclosed by the Local Council.
In one case, notes relating to the possible sexual abuse of a 12 year old girl were accidentally sent to the wrong address on two separate occasions. In another case the identity of a child’s adoptive parents were revealed to the birth parents who then began to stalk and harass the adopters. We have seen numerous cases involving wrongful disclosure of adopter’s parent’s details.
One small administrative mistake by a Local Authority employee can have dramatic effects. A family who is happy and secure with their adoptive child can suddenly have their world blown apart by contact and harassment from the birth parents. This should never happen.
So what legal redress is available to someone whose confidential information is wrongly disclosed by a Local Council?
There are 4 potential actions that can be brought.
1. Negligence/breach of duty – In some cases the Local Authority will owe a duty of care to a parent or child and will breach that duty by disclosing information.
2. Misuse of private information – This is an emerging tort which is freestanding but has elements of Privacy Law and Article 8 of The Human Rights Act. This is an excellent remedy for people whose information has been wrongly disclosed as you can bring a claim for pure distress without having to prove personal injury. One of the leading cases in this area is Gulati, which was a Court of Appeal decision following the Mirror Phone Hacking Scandal where significant damages were paid.
3. The Data Protection Act – This is a fraught legal area but does give a good remedy to people whose personal information has been wrongly disclosed. The difficulty at present is that the Law is unclear as to whether you need to show financial loss to claim for distress. There are ongoing proceedings in the Court of Appeal which should clarify the position but the Data Protection Act does allow a remedy to clients whose information has been wrongly used.
4. The Human Rights Act – Revealing personal information about a family will often constitute a breach of Article 8 of The Human Rights Act. If you are contemplating an action under the HRA you have to be aware of a 1 year time limit on pursuing the claim. The other problem with The Human Rights Act is that unlike the tort of misuse of private information the remedy is not always a significant damages claim but can be a reasonable apology. The European Court simply need to ensure that you obtain “just satisfaction” and in some cases an apology from the Council can be sufficient.
This is a constantly emerging and changing area of Law but anyone who has suffered disclosure of confidential information by a Local Authority without their consent may well have a strong damages claim under 1 of the above 4 heads of claim.
If you have suffered as a result of this please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialist solicitors for further advice.