Man fails to get £5k council payout for lengthy data request wait

Charles Edwards took the council to court for responding 40 days late to an information request but a judge today found he could not sufficiently prove this caused him suffering, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Credit: abdoudz via Canva

A judge has thrown out a Walthamstow man’s claim that his council owes him £5,000 in damages for taking too long to answer his legal request for information.

Charles Edwards said the council caused him “stress” by answering his legal request for the council to share all personal information it held of him about 40 days past the legal deadline.

But a judge at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court rejected his claim at a hearing today (6th February).

District Judge Kathryn Shakespeare ruled that although the council had breached data protection law, Edwards failed to “sufficiently evidence” that this caused him suffering.

She called the council’s failure to answer his subject access request (SAR) for personal data held about him within the required time frame “fairly technical”, but also rejected the council’s bid to have the claim completely struck out.

Under data protection law, SAR requests to public bodies such as Waltham Forest Council have a one month deadline which can be extended to three months.

But Edwards did not receive a response to his 4th May request until 11th September.

The council admitted this was 40 days late, but claimed the information team had suffered from “significant service pressures”.

Edwards had argued that the data breach caused him “mental injury” and highlighted his health conditions which include Parkinson’s disease and low adrenaline.

He added: “They say it was a minor infringement, but the law’s the law, you can’t go around choosing which law you don’t abide by, or else society would go into chaos – it’s just not fair.”

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Charles Edwards outside court, Credit: LDRS

A defence statement submitted by Waltham Forest Council disputed that this caused Charles any “loss”.

The council’s barrister Douglas Scott said the delay in replying to his “wide-ranging” SAR was so “minor” that his damage claim was “abusive”.

He added that Edwards’ £5,000 damages claim was the “epitome of unreasonable and vexatious behaviour” following “dozens” of data-related requests submitted in recent years.

Scott alleged that Charles has a background of “continuous harassment” of the council through various data protection and freedom of information requests.

This also included the council’s invocation of its “unreasonable behaviour policy” against Edwards over his repeated complaints about its low-traffic neighbourhoods policies and persistent emails containing “unsubstantiated allegations”.

Although Judge Shakespeare dismissed Edwards’ claim, she also rejected the council’s claim that because his claim was “unreasonable” he should pay £2,156 in legal costs.

Following the hearing, Edwards said: “I wanted to go there to prove a point – that they were in the wrong and maybe they will think about carrying on like this.

“I wasn’t defeated though, I didn’t get costs.

“It wasn’t the aim to win the money, it was to win the argument.”

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council said: “We are pleased that the judge dismissed a claim for damages and that we can now focus on supporting Waltham Forest residents who rely on the essential services that we provide.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include comment from the council (07/02).

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