Hundreds of Westminster political staffers are suing the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) after it allegedly published their salaries, holiday entitlements, and number of hours worked.
News of the lawsuit emerged after London’s High Court rejected a bid for anonymity by the staffers. They sued over a March 2017 blunder by IPSA which saw a spreadsheet containing confidential personal data published on its website, freely accessible by all.
The 216 claimants, who formerly worked in the Houses of Parliament, are suing the public body – formed by the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, primarily as a retort to the parliamentary expenses scandal – for misuse of private information, breach of confidence, and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Around 3,000 people received a compensation payout in 2019 from IPSA, though the remaining 216 took their grievance to the High Court after law firm JMW Solicitors advertised that affected staffers might have “a legal claim for compensation and other legal remedies.”
That case was filed with the High Court earlier this year, with JMW attempting to hide the names of the people suing IPSA from the general public. Mr Justice Nicklin, the judge who ruled on that anonymity application, was, however, not impressed by their arguments.
“If these Claimants succeed in the claims they intend to bring, and are awarded damages for the distress over loss of autonomy/control, then the Court will have granted the Claimants an appropriate remedy for the civil wrong that they have established,” he said in his judgment [PDF, 18 pages]. “That remedy will not be harmed by the Claimants being identified in any reports of the proceedings.”
Appearing to be a group litigation, the IPSA case suggests that the era of lawsuits brought by large numbers of people against organisations they accuse of breaching privacy laws remains in full flow. The legal industry is waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lloyd v Google, which will settle whether foreign-headquartered tech companies can be sued in the English courts for data breaches.
Returning to the IPSA case, Mr Justice Nicklin observed: “The Claimants have not put forward any credible and specific evidence that one or more Claimants is at particular risk,” referring to promised “‘illustrative summaries’ of the harm alleged to have been suffered” not having been supplied as evidence.
Just to hammer the point home, he added: “No evidence of a risk of specific harm was identified in respect of any individual Claimant by Mr [Nick] McAleenan,” the claimants’ solicitor.
The claimants also demanded the Press Association tell the rest of the national news media that some people were suing IPSA and didn’t want their names published – without telling the PA the names they wanted withheld. Although the judge criticised the PA for its refusal to go along with this demand, it is common sense that you can’t avoid naming someone without knowing precisely which names to leave out of reporting.
The court ordered that the claimants’ names and addresses were public information but not their “confidential and private information,” being the salary details and so on they were suing IPSA for revealing.
IPSA declined to comment. ®