Judge’s handwritten notes obtained in data request, setting legal precedent

A judge’s handwritten notes have been obtained to challenge a ruling for the first time, establishing a legal precedent for the right to personal information, according to an article in The Guardian. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has handed over confidential material providing an insight into the reasoning behind a judgment.

The former car service manager Alfred Percival waged a four-year war relying on powers under the 1998 Data Protection Act (DPA) to acquire notes made by Judge Ian Pritchard-Witts because he disagreed with his 2013 decision rejecting a constructive dismissal claim in an employment tribunal. The MoJ’s argument that judicial notes should be exempt from subject access requests (SARs) was overruled by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the notes were finally handed over.

Alistair Kelman, a former barrister who has been supporting the Percivals, said: “This is a first. A judge acts in a dual role in a case, not just as the judge but also as the person who is transcribing the proceedings.”

The development follows Alfred Percival’s claim for constructive dismissal made against Marshall Motor Group, one of the UK’s largest car dealerships. Mr Percival alleged that he had fallen out with his employer after whistleblowing over health and safety concerns. He asked for flexible working hours because his wife had cancer, but Marshall argued that Percival had resigned and the dispute did not relate to any alleged public interest disclosures.

Judge Pritchard-Witts and two lay members on the tribunal found unanimously that Percival had resigned, that he was not “constructively unfairly dismissed” and that he was not subject to any “detriment for any reason of making a protected disclosure”.

Mr Percival decided to challenge the decision by submitting a subject access request. Under the DPA, any individual can ask to see information held about them subject to certain exclusions.

For several years the Percivals fought a tenacious battle by correspondence with the ICO, MoJ and the senior judiciary, eventually emerging victorious when the ICO last summer agreed that “handwritten notes in the court files will be data for the purposes of the DPA”.

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