With a number of high-profile claims against Google in the offing, practitioners and individuals alike are hopeful for guidance on the interplay between the application of the ‘right to be forgotten’ principle and the forthcoming introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Iain Wilson, managing partner of Brett Wilson LLP, considers the issues at hand.
In January 2014, Andrew Skelton, an apparently disgruntled employee of Morrisons Supermarket posted a file containing the personal data (including salaries, bank details, and National Insurance numbers) of 99,998 Morrisons’ employees on a file-sharing website. It seems his intention was to cause mass-scale damage to the supermarket. In March 2014, a CD containing the data was sent to three UK newspapers, one of whom alerted Morrisons. Chief among the company’s concerns was the possibility of the data being used to aid theft or identity theft from the staff concerned. They acted quickly to get the file removed from the Internet within a few hours.
Selvaratnam Suresh, an honorary chairman, trustee and co-founder of the Oriental Fine Arts Academy of London (‘OFAAL’) has succeeded in his libel claim against Abdul Samad, Amirthalingam Nagarajah and Kajananan Sathananthan, after the defendants agreed to retract their allegations, apologise and pay compensation and costs. The first two defendants are parents of pupils at the West London Tamil School. The third defendant is a former pupil and the president of the school’s alumni association.
In the case of David v Hosany  EWHC 2787 (QB), His Honour Judge Moloney QC considered a libel claim brought by the claimant, a Governor of the East London Foundation NHS Trust, in respect of three publications by the defendant, another Governor of the same Trust. These publications alleged that the claimant had intimidated and harassed the defendant, with two of the publications containing allegations of sexual harassment.
The long-awaited decision in Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd  EWCA Civ 1334 has brought some badly-needed clarity and certainty to the law of libel, and it seems fair to say that reports of the death of the libel writ have been greatly exaggerated. The decision interprets both the meaning of section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 – “the serious harm” test – and determines the point at which a claim for libel crystallises.
In Singh v Weayou  EWHC 2102 (QB), the Claimant Keith Singh, a Night Services Coordinator at the Priory Hospital in Roehampton, sued the Defendant Joseph Weayou, a Health Care Assistant at the same hospital, for libel and malicious falsehood in respect of an email Mr Weayou had sent on 24 August 2015 to the HR Manager and a senior manager at the hospital. In the email, Mr Weayou made a number of allegations, including, most seriously, that Mr Singh had sexually assaulted him.
The Ministry of Justice has published annual statistics which further suggest that London’s reputation as the ‘libel capital of the world’ might be undeserved. The 2016 figures show that only 112 claims were issued in the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) in London (all defamation claims must be issued in the High Court; the vast majority of these are issued in the RCJ). This is the lowest number recorded over three decades-worth of record-keeping.
Following a high-profile, televised police raid on his Berkshire home in 2014, Sir Cliff Richard issued claims against the BBC and South Yorkshire Police for the misuse of his private information, infringement of his Article 8 ECHR right to a private life, and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. In a recent hearing before Mr Justice Mann, Sir Cliff’s legal team stated that they had reached a settlement agreement with South Yorkshire Police and had agreed to stay proceedings against the BBC for one month in an attempt to reach a settlement.