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Police force breached data protection rights of vulnerable teenager by disclosing information, court rules

The High Court has ruled that Sussex Police unlawfully disclosed information about a vulnerable teenager to a local business organisation.

Monckton Chambers, from which Eric Metcalfe represented 16-year-old M, said the case was one of the first under the Part 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018 concerning the processing of law enforcement data by a police force, which falls under the Law Enforcement Directive rather than the General Data Protection Regulations.

The Administrative Court heard that Sussex Police had breached M’s data protection rights by disclosing details of her vulnerability to child exploitation to the local Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCPR).

She had been excluded from a number of local businesses by the BCPR, with which the police had an agreement to share information about suspected offenders.

Mrs Justice Lieven DBE rejected the police denial that it had shared such information about the girl’s vulnerability.

In M, R (on the application of) v The Chief Constable of Sussex Police & Anor [2019] EWHC 975 the judge said there was “no evidence that the defendant properly weighed up the impact on the claimant of sharing this information, or whether there were sufficient safeguards to ensure against onward transmission.

“In particular there is no evidence that the defendant addressed its mind to the particular importance of not sharing information of this nature about a child.”

Lieven J said the information sharing agreement between the police and BCPR could be improved but was not itself unlawful and the sharing was proportionate.

She did though find for M that information that revealed her vulnerability to child sexual exploitation should not have been shared.

The judge criticised the police for failing to adequately disclose information to the court.

She said no detailed grounds were filed, the police saying they intended to simply rely on the summary grounds.

Three witness statements were filed “but it was entirely clear to the claimant (and subsequently to me at the hearing) that this evidence, together with the summary grounds of defence, did not amount to full and fair disclosure of relevant material”, the judge said.

She said it remained “virtually beyond doubt that there is further relevant material which still has not been disclosed” and these lapses meant “I cannot be confident as to precisely what was disclosed and in what terms to BCRP”.