Access to justice

Charities fight for equal access to justice

Posted on 28 Apr 2021

  • Liberty, Inclusion London and Coram Children’s Legal Centre intervene in landmark Supreme Court case
  • Children and disabled people must be able to seek justice for data breaches
  • Supreme Court case a game-changer for justice for data breaches

Liberty, Inclusion London and Coram Children’s Legal Centre are fighting for equality and access to justice in a landmark Supreme Court case today.

The three not-for-profits have filed a joint intervention in today’s (Wednesday 28 April) appeal brought by Google over the right to seek compensation for data breaches by tech companies and other bodies that mishandle our personal information.

In 2019, the Court of Appeal agreed with Mr Lloyd that the 4 million victims of alleged breaches of data protection laws by Google should be able to bring a representative claim against the tech giant, rather than individual claims.

Lloyd also argued that loss of control of personal data is important – and merits compensation – regardless of whether or not “distress” is caused by a data breach. Google has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

Liberty, the human rights organisation, has joined forces with disability equality campaigners Inclusion London and children’s charity Coram to intervene in the case to argue that everyone should be able to seek justice if a tech company or public body breaches their data rights – whether or not they felt distress due to the breach. The groups argue that some people, such as young children and some disabled people, might not feel or show “distress” in the context of a data breach in the same way as other people, but should still be able to obtain justice.

These groups may be more at risk of a data breach, or be the targets of people who would misuse their data, so ensuring their data rights are protected is critical, Liberty, Coram, Inclusion London say.

The charities also argue that it is important for the principle of access to justice that breaches of our data rights can be challenged through representative actions, whereby many people can come together to file a legal claim.

Since data breaches often affect many people, it is important to reduce the barriers that currently prevent individuals from seeking justice, the charities say. If you have your personal data rights breached, without a representative action, you would have to file an individual claim which may be expensive, for which you may not be able to obtain legal aid, and which may require costly expert witnesses. Allowing people who have all been subject to the same data breach – and who have all lost control of their personal data – to file a representative action (as they can in other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Canada and Australia), would improve access to justice, the groups argue.

There are multiple cases being brought on behalf of children against big tech companies including TikTok and YouTube that are currently on hold pending the outcome of this case.

Liberty lawyer Megan Goulding said: “We all deserve the right to seek justice when our privacy and dignity are undermined. Children and disabled people must have the same right to data protection and privacy as anyone else.

“Representative actions can ensure ordinary people overcome barriers and take on tech companies for data breaches, and will make those companies take their data protection responsibilities seriously.

“We all have the right to privacy – and if that right is undermined through a data breach, we should all be able to seek justice.”

Coram’s Head of Legal Practice, Rosalyn Akar Grams said: “In an increasingly digitalised world which creates both opportunities and risks for children, it is vital that their rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

“Their right to privacy and control over their personal data should be enforceable and where breaches occur, justice must be accessible. As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently concluded collective complaints, including class action and public interest litigation are an important mechanism for securing justice and holding companies and others who control our data to account.  The right to compensation should be available to children, regardless of whether they understand the consequences of the breach or experience distress as a result of it.”

Svetlana Kotova, Director of Campaigns and Justice at Inclusion London, said: “We believe all Disabled people should have the same protection and be able to seek justice when their data rights are breached without discrimination.  Disabled people face significant barriers in accessing justice because of the lack of support, complexity and inaccessibility of the system. In reality only few will be able to assert their rights and some will be excluded completely. Rights mean little if you cannot enforce them. This is why we believe the approach should be to remove the barriers and make it easier for people to seek justice when their data rights have been breached.”

The hearing will be heard in the Supreme Court over 28 and 29 April.

Dan Squires QC, Aidan Wills, Tim James-Matthews from Matrix Chambers are acting for Liberty, Coram and Inclusion London.

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