Friday 20 September 2019

Alan Shatter wins appeal over Data Commissioner's finding on Mick Wallace complaint

Mr Wallace had complained to the DPC after a live TV disclosure of information concerning the Independent TD

Alan Shatter. Photo: Frank McGrath
Alan Shatter. Photo: Frank McGrath

Aodhan O Faolain

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter has won his appeal over a finding that his live TV disclosure of information concerning Independent TD Mick Wallace was done in breach of his statutory duties under the data protection act.

Mr Shatter had denied his reference during an RTE Prime Time interview in May 2013 to Mr Wallace being allegedly cautioned by gardai over allegedly using a mobile phone while driving amounted to a use and disclosure of personal data of Mr Wallace's.

He appealed over the Circuit Civil Court’s dismissal of his challenge to then Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes’  May 2014 decision that his disclosure breached his statutory duties under the data protection act.

Mr Wallace had complained to the DPC after the Prime Time interview. He has taken separate civil proceedings against the Minster for Justice, and against Mr Shatter personally, over the matter which have yet to be heard.

In his High Court proceedings, Mr Shatter claimed Mr Hawkes failed to set out the basis for his conclusion the information was personal data and had prejudged that issue and acted in breach of fair procedures.

Mr Shatter's lawyers said he never had, or saw, any written record of the information communicated to him during a conversation with then Garda Commissioner Martin Callanan, the information was "in his mind" only and what he said did not amount to "processing" it.

The DPC maintained Mr Shatter "processed" data of Mr Wallace's within the meaning of the relevant provisions of the act.

In his judgment today, Mr Justice Charles Meenan allowed Mr Shatter’s appeal.

He found the Circuit Court had erred in finding Mr Shatter did not have legal standing to bring and  maintain the appeal.

It can hardly be disputed that, in pursuing this appeal, Mr Shatter is seeking to reverse potential damage to his good name and reputation arising from the Commissioner’s decision, he said.

The Circuit Court also erred in finding the Commissioner followed fair procedures in reaching his May 2014 decision.  Statements made by the Commissioner in correspondence and the national media cannot be seen as anything other than prejudgment of a central issue in Mr Wallace’s complaint, he said.

The Circuit Court judge also erred in how he applied the relevant provisions of the Data Protection  Acts to the circumstances of Mr Wallace’s complaint, the judge ruled. 

There was a fundamental flaw in the procedures followed by the Commissioner in considering the complaint, he said. Central to the complaint was the “data” involved and the Commissioner’s draft decision on the complaint referred to a “written note”.

It only emerged on May 6th 2014, the date of the Commissioner’s final decision, that it transpired the written note was in fact an email dated January 11th 2013. All that Mr Shatter knew about this email was that it was “internal to An Garda Siochana”, the judge said.

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