Courts

Friday 25 July 2014

Wallace on notice in Shatter case against Data Commissioner

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 19/06/2014|11:09

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Alan Shatter

INDEPENDENT TD Mick Wallace has been appointed as a notice party in an appeal brought by former justice minister Alan Shatter against a ruling by the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC).

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Mr Shatter has launched a personal bid to clear his name following a ruling by the DPC that he broke the law when he disclosed personal information about Mr Wallace during a live television programme.

This morning solicitor Gareth Noble, representing Mr Wallace, said that the Wexford TD wanted to be joined as a notice party in order to make submissions and receive the papers in the case as the outcome of the appeal will "directly affect his rights and interests".

Neither Mr Shatter or Mr Wallace were present in the Circuit Court this morning.

Mr Shatter is being represented by Senior Counsel Frank Callinan who said that the appeal could take up to a day to be heard.

Mr Callinan told Circuit Court Judge Alan Mahon that Mr Shatter would not oppose Mr Wallace's bid to be joined to the case, but said that the DPC was the "legitimus contradictor" - the person or body that puts the opposing view - in the action.

Mr Callinan said that although the case would be brief, there would be significant legal issues regarding the construction of the data protection acts to be aired.

The case is expected to be heard in October.

The Dublin South TD has taken his fight to the Circuit Court where he has lodged an appeal against the DPC finding.

Earlier this week the Irish  Independent revealed that the Government will have no involvement in the appeal against Commissioner Billy Hawkes, even though Mr Shatter's controversial remarks about Mr Wallace were made by Mr Shatter in his then official capacity as Justice Minister.

Mr Shatter caused a storm when he revealed during a heated May 2013 edition of RTE's 'Prime Time' that Mr Wallace had been cautioned by gardai for using a mobile phone while driving.

The controversy became known as Shattergate.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald  will not be involved in the court appeal by Mr Shatter, even though outgoing Data Commissioner Billy Hawkes said it would be up to Ms Fitzgerald to have the final say.

Mr Hawkes identified that Mr Shatter was in breach of data protection laws during the 'Prime Time' programme.

When he issued the ruling, Mr Hawkes said the decision to appeal his finding was up to Ms Fitzgerald, who replaced Mr Shatter after a series of controversies including two alleged bugging scandals, a row over penalty points as well as Mr Shatter's own failure to complete a breathalyser test – because he is an asthmatic – at a garda checkpoint in 2011.

But Ms Fitzgerald ruled out any involvement by the Government in the legal action.

"The State is not involved in the appeal and, in particular, the current minister is not a party to – nor seeking to be joined as a party to – the proceedings," said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice.

Mr Shatter, who subsequently apologised to Mr Wallace, resigned one day after the Commissioner's decision was announced due to adverse findings in the Guerin report into allegations of garda misconduct by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Mr Shatter, who famously represented himself in the Supreme Court Abbeylara dispute, has now instructed a legal firm to pursue the appeal.

His law firm was notified in advance of today's brief hearing that Mr Wallace intended to be joined as a party to the legal action.

The Data DPC said before the hearing that it would not oppose any move by Mr Wallace to become a notice party to the action.

In its ruling, the DPC found that Mr Shatter was a 'data controller' in relation to the 'personal data' about Mr Wallace and that he failed to uphold his statutory duties as a Data Controller under Section 2(1)(c)(ii) of the Data Protection Acts 1988-2003 in disclosing such sensitive data.

However, it found that former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was not in breach of the Data Protection Acts when he gave the information to the Minister for Justice.

In a submission to Mr Hawkes before the ruling was published, Mr Shatter said that the information about Mr Wallace was not in his possession in any documentary form.

He said it was verbally conveyed and directly to him by Mr Callinan during a conversation "at which no other persons were present".

But Mr Hawkes said to accept Mr Shatter's argument he would have to accept that the disclosure of Mr Wallace's personal information was necessary for the pursuit of legitimate interests.

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