A case from September 2002, suggests that the courts may refuse to support applicants who try to use their rights under the Data Protection Act instead of using other, more appropriate, legal rights. If this pragmatic approach is followed, it will be extremely helpful to those organisations who struggle to comply with “vexatious” subject access requests made as part of another dispute or grievance.
The case of P v David Wozencroft considered whether Mr Wozencroft was able to enforce his rights under the Data Protection Act 1998 to access and rectify information prepared about him in the course of proceedings under the Children Act 1989. Mr Wozencroft had, unsuccessfully, applied under the Children Act for a residence order and to vary a contact order in respect of his daughter. In the course of these proceedings a consultant child psychiatrist prepared a report on Mr Wozencroft that was extremely unfavourable. Once he had exhausted proceedings under the Children Act, Mr Wozencroft made a subject access request, requiring the psychiatrist to provide all information that he held relating to the matter. Mr Wozencroft made clear that he wanted this information in order to support his claim that the psychiatric report, that was extremely important in his Children Act proceedings, was incorrect and should be rectified.
The psychiatrist disputed that he had to comply with the Data Protection Act, most interestingly on the ground that the Official Solicitor, who had instructed him, should be seen as the data controller in these matters, not him.
In the event, the court did not decide on this point. Instead, the judge relied on the fact that he had a discretion under the Data Protection Act whether or not to make an order to enforce a subject access request and to enforce an individual’s rectification rights. In this case, the judge decided that it would not be appropriate for him to make such an order as Mr Wozencroft’s claims should have been considered in the context of the Children Act proceedings and it would be an abuse of process to allow Mr Wozencroft to use the Data Protection Act to raise these same points.