High Court orders closure of website for breach of DP Act

The High Court, in a hearing on 15th November, ordered the closure of a website www.solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, which invites dissatisfied clients to name and shame solicitors. The case was brought as a representative action by the Law Society on behalf of all those currently featured on the website and those who might, in the future, feature on the website.

The defendant claimed that the website provides a public service by publishing a "blacklist" of law firms and solicitors that should be avoided. The postings about solicitors and other individuals on the website contain personal data and, in many instances, sensitive personal data.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Tugendhat said that the defendant had breached the DP Act. In some instances, Protection from Harassment Act 1997 applied.

The judgement says: “In breach of the Fourth Data Protection Principle the personal and sensitive personal data about solicitors and other individuals processed by the Defendant and published on the Website is not accurate, indeed it is usually seriously inaccurate. “ The judge also found the website in breach of principle one, the requirement to process data fairly and lawfully.

The ICO’s decision had been that the "domestic purposes" exemption in the Data Protection Act (s.36), intended to balance the individual's rights to respect for his/her private life with the freedom of expression, applied. “I am afraid the DP Act is simply not designed to deal with the sort of problem that you have brought to my attention," the Information Commissioner’s Office said. However, clearly, the court disagreed with the ICO.

See, in particular, paragraphs 76 – 101 dealing with the Data Protection Act aspects and note that the court took into consideration immaterial damage: “The Website causes serious damage to the reputations of the solicitors, firms and others who are listed on it, causing them financial loss, embarrassment, anxiety and distress.” (paragraph 11).

See the decision of 7 December.