Webster & Ors v The Governors of the Ridgway Foundation School
Reference:  EWHC 1140 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Nicol J
Date of judgment: 21 May 2009
Summary: Privacy - Proportionality - Specific disclosure - Redaction - Witness statements - CPR rr.31.3, 31.12, 31.14 - Article 8, ECHR - Data Protection
Instructing Solicitors: Linder Myers for the Claimants; Everatt & Co for the Defendants
C1 was a pupil who had been assaulted at school. He was white and his assailants, all of whom were convicted of wounding with intent, were a group of Asian children and adults. The other Cs were C1’s family who claimed to have suffered PTSD. The Cs issued proceedings against the Ds on the grounds that they had been negligent in failing to maintain proper disciplinary standards or to take proper care for pupils’ security, including in particular allowing racial tensions to develop, which he claimed had led to the assault.
As part of its standard disclosure, the Ds had allowed inspection of documents with names of pupils had been redacted. Cs sought specific disclosure of unredacted copies of those documents and disclosure of a computerised system referred to in witness statements that had been used to record pupil misbehaviour.
Whether the Cs were entitled to specific disclosure of (1) the unredacted versions of the documents already disclosed and
(2) the computer database of pupil misbehaviour.
(1) The request for disclosure of names of pupils in memos relating to the “climate of racial tension” could not be objected to on the grounds of proportionality as the application was focussed and the numbers of pupils involved was small. However, disclosure of their identities would be an interference with their private lives, especially as the matters discussed had caused many of them upset. In any event, it was not necessary for the applicants to know their identities to have a fair trial. Identifiers were sufficient.
(2) Under CPR r.31.14, mention of a document in a witness statement would usually trigger a right to inspection. However, this position was subject to qualifications in CPR r.31.3. Allowing inspection of the whole database would be disproportionate in this case. Furthermore, requiring the governors to provide a redacted version of the database would be a very substantial task which was disproportionate to the issues in the case.
The school initially argued that the Data Protection Act prevented disclosure of the unredacted documents because they would reveal sensitive personal data. However, the judge said that it was not relevant because the Act is not breached if disclosure is necessary for the administration of justice. He nonetheless went on to find that the disclosure of the information would constitute an unjustified intrusion into the pupils’ private lives under Article 8. He emphasised that what was most important was the issue of the proportionality of the interference under Article 8(2). Ruling that full disclosure would be disproportionate, he went on to order the school to provide a unique “identifier” for each pupil whose name had been redacted, which would allow the applicants to at least know the person’s race or ethnicity.