Lord Ashcroft v Attorney General & Others
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 5 Jun 2003
Summary: Data Protection - Subject Access Request - s.7 Data Protection Act 1998 - Manual Files - Exemptions - Privacy - Breach of Confidence
Instructing Solicitors: Davenport Lyons
Lord Ashcroft made claims in privacy and under the Data Protection Act in respect of a series of leaks from the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and other government sources of official information about him. He alleged that there had been a politically inspired campaign against him (he was the Treasurer, and a major funder of the Conservative Party). Several actions were started. The first claims to come to trial were his claims under the DPA and the HRA for access to information held by the FCO and DfiD.
(1) Did the DPA give Lord Ashcroft a right of access to information on manual government files?
(2) If so, did the exemptions relied on by the Defendants apply, and conform with the Data Protection Directive and ECHR?
(3) If access was not available under the DPA, could it be obtained directly under the Directive or by giving effect to Lord Ashcroft’s Article 8 rights, under s7 HRA?
The case was settled on the second day of trial, with a public apology from the government and the payment of substantial costs
Is it unprecedented for a government to apologise to the victim of leaks? If not, it is certainly unusual. The settlement left unresolved some potentially important issues about the application of the DPA, the validity of some of its exemptions, and the extent to which Article 8 of the ECHR gives a separate right of access to government information.