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Liverpool City Council prosecuted for data protection offences

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Liverpool City Council prosecuted for data protection offences

In the first prosecution brought by the Information Commissioner for failure to comply with an information notice, Liverpool City Council has today pleaded guilty to the offence and agreed to the Information Commissioner’s Office auditing the authority’s data protection procedures. The council was fined £300 and no application for costs was made. In his summing up, the District Judge at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court said the council had shown an ‘appalling breakdown of communication’ and ‘a clear lack of compliance’ with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Using the Data Protection Act a former employee of Liverpool City Council made a ‘subject access request’ for personal information held on her by the authority. Following the request, Liverpool City Council provided some information to the woman. However she felt that some sensitive information relating to her health was missing from the material provided. As a result of this she made a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

ICO commenced an investigation and tried to contact Liverpool City Council on several occasions by letter and telephone. The council did not respond. As the council had failed to respond to a preliminary information notice in another matter that was running alongside this case, ICO issued an information notice in respect of both matters to the chief executive of Liverpool City Council by
recorded delivery on 15 June 2006. The notice required the council to respond to ICO by 20 July 2006. No response of any kind was received from the council.

Under section 47 of the Data Protection Act it is a criminal offence to fail to comply with an information notice. ICO wrote to the chief executive of the council again on 22 August 2006 affording the public body 14 days to make representations on circumstances which might make a prosecution inappropriate. ICO did not receive a response and therefore was left with no alternative but to commence proceedings through the courts.

Mick Gorrill, Head of the Regulatory Action Division at the Information Commissioner’s Office, said: “The Data Protection Act gives us all important rights, including the opportunity to find out what information is held on us by an organisation. This right is the very cornerstone of the Act and that is why the legislation is so important. Today’s successful prosecution serves as a very useful reminder to organisations that they must comply with subject access requests appropriately and that it is a criminal offence to ignore information notices served by the Information Commissioner.”


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