UK Data Protection Bill is flawed, Bar Council warns

DataIQ News

The Bar Council - the body which represents barristers in the UK - has warned that the rush to push through the "clumsily drafted" UK Data Protection Bill will hand the Information Commissioner's Office powers which could put consumers’ and businesses’ legal rights in jeopardy.

As MPs prepare for a final vote on the Bill today, the legal body is concerned that it will allow the ICO to access legally privileged material without the consent of the client. The Bill will also make it more difficult for lawyers to advise and defend their clients, it claims.

Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC insisted that "a lack of proper scrutiny means that the Bill goes too far, and key safeguards have been overlooked".

He said that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the ICO from both obtaining legally privileged material and then disclosing it to a third party for use in any sort of legal proceedings. "That would run a coach and horses through the confidential nature of clients’ communications with their lawyers," he warned.

Walker added: “The Bill is also clumsily drafted. One of the apparent ‘safeguards’ protects lawyers from self-incrimination, but does not protect their clients themselves, who are the ones most likely to be affected.

“In addition, a lack of proper scrutiny means that it will impose onerous and entirely unnecessary new obligations on lawyers, risk the disruption of legal proceedings, and make it more difficult for lawyers to use information provided by their clients to advise and defend them.  The extra costs of all this will inevitably have to be paid by those seeking legal advice and protection.

The Bar Council has pressed for amendments to the Bill at every Parliamentary stage and with civil servants in the Department for Digital, Culture & Sport, but it claims the Government has not been prepared to consider changes to the Bill for fear of delaying its implementation.

“Time for back-bench and opposition amendments has been squeezed and the result is a Bill that threatens seriously to undermine some very significant rights. Whilst we grasp fully the importance of implementing the GDPR, a Bill of this magnitude and complexity deserves proper scrutiny by Parliament. It is not too late for the Government to take action to address the concerns of the profession," Walker added.