ICO probes court staff instruction to report striking barristers to Raab

MoJ: “Categorically untrue” that Raab requested names

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has begun investigating concerns that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was unlawfully processing the personal data of striking barristers.

It follows a complaint about an email sent by the MoJ to court staff, telling them to fill in a form detailing barristers who were striking at the end of June and send it to the Senior Presiding Judge.

“The data from the forms is going to the deputy prime minister,” the email said, although it was not clear whether this meant the actual names would be forwarded to Dominic Raab.

The complaint was lodged by London law firm Mishcon de Reya, acting pro bono for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which told the MoJ in July that this “unlawful processing of personal data” was both “highly privacy intrusive” and “of a kind liable to cause immediate distress to affected barristers”.

It went on: “Indeed, it is clear from evidence obtained thus far by the CBA that it has in fact caused distress on the part of individual members. More widely, the unlawful processing is seriously concerning…

“It is to be inferred that the scheme was introduced precisely so as to unsettle barristers and make them fearful of participating in the strike.”

A spokeswoman for the ICO said: “We are aware of this matter and are considering information submitted to us, in addition to making our own enquiries.”

An MoJ spokesman said it was “categorically untrue that the justice secretary or Ministry of Justice has requested the names of any barristers”.

Mishcon de Reya said that information subsequently disclosed to the CBA and shared with the ICO showed that, “whether or not he requested actual names be given to him personally, Mr Raab did direct the collection in the first place”.

It continued: “Internal court service emails state that the order to collect the data was ‘a direct request from the Deputy Prime Minister with full knowledge of the downsides’. It is understood that despite this direction request, no names were ultimately directly shared with Mr Raab.”

CBA chair Kirsty Brimelow QC said: “It would have been a better discharge of ministerial duties for the deputy prime minister and justice secretary to meet with the CBA and resolve the ongoing barrister action. We are seeking to prevent the complete collapse of the criminal justice system – the door remains open.”

Back in July, the MoJ told The Times that the email used confusing language and was potentially sent by mistake, while no names of barristers taking part in strike action were provided to the MoJ.

Mishcon told the MoJ that “the language of the instruction is not remotely confusing. Indeed, it could hardly be clearer… The point is simply not open to interpretation”.

Its letter argued that it was “inconceivable that the instruction to provide the names of individual barristers was the product of a ‘mistake’”, and that “the assertion that no names of barristers have been provided to MoJ is very hard to credit”.

It explained: “The instruction was given on the basis that the names would be entered into the forms. It is inconceivable that court staff simply ignored this instruction and failed to enter any names.”

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