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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 75039
Experience:  Qualified Solicitor
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I have a situation where someone has sent in a complaint

Customer Question

Hi. I have a situation where someone has sent in a complaint about me to a Board of Governors requesting they remove me from that Board. They have the knowledge that I am a Governor from my cv which was requested for a role application. They have attached screen shots from FaceBook messenger with names of individuals. Do I have a case for breach of Data Protection and/or defamation of character?
JA: Where are you? It matters because laws vary by location.
Customer: Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK
JA: What steps have you taken so far?
Customer: Nothing - just talked to friends about it.
JA: Is there anything else the Lawyer should know before I connect you? Rest assured that they'll be able to help you.
Customer: I don't know!!
Submitted: 10 days ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

Hello, I’m Ben. It’s my pleasure to assist you today. I may also ask for some preliminary information to help me determine the legal position.

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
OK
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

What exactly has been said about you? Please provide more details of your situation

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
No, I don't, thank
Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Can I attach a letter for you to see?
Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Hello?
Customer: replied 10 days ago.
File attached (VZMSVZ4)
Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Are you still there?
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

OK I understand and thank you for providing this information. Please leave it with me for now; I will get back to you with my answer as soon as I can, usually the same day. The system will notify you when this happens. Please do not reply in the meantime as this may unnecessarily delay my response. Many thanks.

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
OK - the person who complained also attached 27 screen shots of FaceBook messages - some nothing to do with me.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

Many thanks for your patience, I am pleased to be able to continue assisting with your query now. First of all, I am sorry to hear about the issues you have experienced in your situation.

Defamation

Whilst this may appear to be a potential case of defamation (this includes libel if it is in written form, or slander if it is in oral form), such claims are rather difficult to pursue. Many people are keen on suing for defamation without having full appreciation of the law or practicalities of doing so. I will try and clarify the position below to give you a better understanding and cover some of these practicalities.

First of all, certain conditions must be met for the statement to be classified as defamatory. These are:

1. There has to be a defamatory statement - the assessment that is often used to establish this is whether the statement tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally

2. Its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant – this will vary based on what effect it will have but it really has to be something sufficiently serious

3. The statement has been published by the defendant to a third party

4. The claimant must prove that the words complained of were published about them - this should not be an issue if the claimant is named or clearly identified.

Whilst it may be easy to prove that defamation has taken place, the legal process of pursuing such a claim is often complex and prohibitively expensive. A claim must be made in the High Court and will likely require the help of professional defamation lawyers, so the costs will often be high right from the outset, usually in the thousands. There is also no legal aid available for such claims so the complainant must fund these personally.

You must also consider whether the publisher of the statement can potentially defend the claim. For example, this can happen by proving the statement was true or an honest opinion which could have been made based on the available facts.

Instead of starting legal proceedings it would be best to contact the publisher of the comment, advise them that what they have done amounts to defamation and that you will consider pursuing the matter further if they do not retract their statement and issue an apology. A solicitor can also be instructed to write such a letter, although here will be costs involved and it does not always make a huge difference. Either option could prompt the publisher to reconsider their position, which would avoid the need for court action. Of course, if they refuse to comply the option of suing still exists, but consider the above information before going down that route.

Data protection

The latest version of the Data Protection Act (DPA) is the current legislation on data protection. It outlines certain principles for individuals and organisations to adhere to when they process an individual’s personal data. Any information from which an individual is personally identifiable will amount to personal data. If a party has acted in contravention of the DPA, the person whose rights have been breached could potentially take things further and even seek compensation for damages.

The first step is to consider reporting the alleged breach to the organisation in breach to see if things can be resolved directly with them, without the need to involve anyone else.

If that is unsuccessful, the next step is to consider reporting this to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). They are the regulatory body that deals with data protection breaches and have certain powers at their disposal to deal with them, such as imposing fines and sanctions. However, they will not award compensation to the victim so the only way to try and do this is by personally going through court.

What the ICO can do, if a breach is reported to them, is order the company to do any of the following:

- impose a temporary or indefinite ban on the processing of data

- force them to comply with your request

- provide any required information

- warn and admonish

- order rectification, erasure or destruction of specific data

- impose severe financial penalties and fine the company in breach

If the victim wanted to take formal legal action, they may do so and issue a claim in the civil courts. There is no need to show that financial losses have been incurred and compensation can be sought for mere distress caused by the alleged breach. The level of compensation will depend on the severity of the breach and the effects it has had on the victim. As this is often a complex area, it is advisable to seek further professional advice on the applicable rights and options.

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

Hopefully, I have answered your query in a way that is simple and easy to understand. If anything remains unclear, I will be more than happy to clarify it for you. In the meantime, thank you once again for using our services.

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Hello, and thank you for your comprehensive answer. I didn't think defamation of character was an option, but this person - (and it's not a company so does this make a difference?) - took the information that I am a Governor of the College from my cv which I sent to the Company (to which she says she belongs i.e. the Barkisland Mill Management Board) - surely since I emailed it to a Company address the Company are at fault for allowing her to use that confidential information? Can you explain who would be responsible - the individual on the Board who wrote the letter or the Board itself since it was emailed to a Board address?
Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Hello - is anyone there?
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

Hi sorry I was offline by the time you had replied.

A person can be just as liable for defamation and/or data protection breaches as a company so it makes no difference.

But the company may have what is known as ‘vicarious liability’, where they are actually reposnsible for the actions of their employees, even if they did not approve them. So you can pursue the Board as well, or both, just to cover yourself on all fronts

Customer: replied 10 days ago.
Thank you. The person who wrote the complaint has asked Calderdale College not to let me know her identity. So I know only that she is a Director of Barkisland Mill Residents' Management Board. Does this mean that I can only take action against the Board? - or can I? It was to the Board's email address that I sent my cv?
Customer: replied 10 days ago.
I believe that this person sent in an email resigning as a Director a week or so before sending in the complaint..
Customer: replied 10 days ago.
In the email she has referred to "we" - not I - so does that mean the Board is involved?
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 10 days ago.

No, you cannot assume that by simply her saying ‘we’ then the whole Board is in on it as well. It could be just the phrase she has decided to use, without it meaning that the Board even know anything about it. But if she has done this whilst undertaking her duties then the Board can be vicariously liable as well