DPA rights in the media context – the s. 32 stay mechanism

As most readers of this blog will be aware, the use of the DPA in media claims has become big business over the last few years. A major issue which arises in the context of DPA claims which are directed against the media is the extent to which the defendant can rely on the powerful stay mechanism provided for under ss. 32(4) and (5) DPA. This was a hotly contested issue in the case of Steinmetz v Global Witness

(as discussed here). The issue has recently resurfaced in the case of Stunt v Associated Newspapers [2017] EWHC 695 (QB). In Stunt a full-scale challenge to the legal validity of the stay mechanism was mounted in a case brought against Associated by James Stunt (a businessman who is married to Bernie Ecclestone’s daughter). The challenge was brought particularly on the basis that that mechanism conflicted with Article 9 of the DP Directive and ultimately denied adequate protection for the data subject’s fundamental Charter rights, including the right to data protection. That challenge was roundly dismissed by Popplewell J in a judgment handed down yesterday. The critical conclusion is contained in paragraph 61: ‘For all these reasons I do not consider s. 32(4) to be inconsistent or incompatible with Article 9 of the Directive. On the contrary it is part and parcel of the balancing exercise which is required by Article 9, and within the margin of appreciation afforded to the UK Parliament to protect Article 10 ECHR rights by a measure of relatively narrow application designed to prevent the stifling of journalism in progress.’

The judgment will no doubt come as an enormous relief to the media, who have long seen the stay mechanism as a vitally important protection for their Article 10 rights. It will come as a very significant blow to claimants seeking to use the DPA as a tool to protect their reputation. Of course, the question of whether the case may go on appeal remains at large, so you may not yet have heard the last of these issues.

Anya Proops QC