John Edwards, the Information Commissioner, has opened an investigation into concerns that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) itself was unlawfully processing barristers' personal data.
Lawyers from Mishcon de Reya, acting pro bono for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), wrote to the Commissioner in July to invite him to investigate. This followed initial reports indicating that court staff had been asked to report the names of barristers who do not attend court owing to the ongoing barristers’ action.
The MoJ denied that Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab or the MoJ itself requested the names of any barristers. However, information subsequently disclosed to the CBA and shared with the Commissioner shows that – whether or not he requested actual names be given to him personally – Mr Raab did direct the collection in the first place.
Internal court service emails state that the order to collect the data was "…a direct request from the Deputy Prime Minister with full knowledge of the downsides…". It is understood that despite this direction request, no names were ultimately directly shared with Mr Raab.
Should the complaint be upheld, there is a range of enforcement options open to the Commissioner, which include issuing reprimands or even civil monetary penalties, to a maximum of £17.5 million.
Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chair of the CBA, commented: “It would have been a better discharge of ministerial duties for the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary to meet with the CBA and resolve the ongoing barrister action. We are seeking to prevent the complete collapse of the criminal justice system – the door remains open.”