In Aven and others v Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd [2020] EWHC 1812 (QB) the High Court awarded £18,000 damages to claimants for distress after it was found that their sensitive data was unlawfully processed.  

Facts

The facts were that the defendants had prepared a report that contained information about the claimants alleging that they had delivered “illicit cash”. The defendant’s report was commissioned to investigate alleged links between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The claimants successfully proved that certain allegations published about them in the report were inaccurate and misleading as a matter of fact. Therefore, the court held that the defendant breached Principle 4 of the Data Protection Act 1998 which provides that where data is processed for law enforcement it must be factually accurate. As a result, the claimants were entitled to claim compensation arising from their personal data being unlawfully processed.

Damages under the Data Protection Act

The claimants claimed damages for reputational harm and distress caused by the inaccurate information being published about them. The court adopted a similar approach to that used in defamation cases when assessing non-material / non-financial damage arising from distress from publications complained of. It was accepted that the claimants suffered distress as a result of their data being published, but that this was mostly caused by media publications which the defendant was not responsible for in law. The court found that the claimants were of a “robust character” and therefore the damages awarded to them were modest.

Comment

Although the claim was under the Data Protection Act 1998, which has since been replaced by the General Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Act 2018, the amount of compensation that can be awarded for distress is not capped. Therefore, it is possible that a higher level of damages might be awarded to a claimant who is more vulnerable or is more prone to distress.

The award of damages for distress alone (i.e. non-material damage) in Aven v Orbis echoes the previous judgment in Vidal-Hall v Google Inc [2015] EWCA Civ 311 which was the case involving Google collecting private information from Safari browsers without the knowledge and consent of the individuals concerned.

Following Aven v Orbis we may yet see more claims brought for data protection breaches, breaches of privacy and confidence, and misuse of private information. 

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