There was a substantial increase in the number of new claims issued in the Media and Communications List of the Queen’s Bench Division (“the M&C List”) in 2021. A total of 564 new claims were issued, a 50% increase on the number of claims issued in 2020 (373). For the first time, over 50% of all new claims were in data protection.
A public search on the HM Courts and Tribunals E-Filing Service reveals interesting information about the breakdown of these cases. Analysis of the claims issued in 2021 shows substantial differences in the number of issued claims in each category and some interesting changes since 2020 (for our brief analysis of the claims in that year, see here – and for a full analysis by Robert Sharp see here).
Of the 564 new claims issued in the M&C List 515 were Part 7 claims. The majority of the Part 8 claims were for Norwich Pharmacal orders – although some were for harassment or applications to make statements in open court,
The largest category of claim was data protection: there were 293 new claims issued (52% of the total). In contrast, in 2020 there were less than half that number – 126 claims (33% of the total)
In 2021 there were 168 defamation claims issued (30% of the total). This is a slight increase over 2020 when there were 147 new defamation claims issued (39% of the total) – although still substantially less than 2019 (323).
There were only 20 new claims for misuse of private information/breach of privacy (a significant reduction from 2020’s total of 41)
The other significant categories of claim were as follows
- Harassment – 12 claims (2020, 16 claims)
- Norwich Pharmacal – 27 (2020, 14 claims)
- Malicious falsehood – 2 (2020, 5 claims)
- Breach of confidence – 2 (2020, 5 claims).
In 2021 there were 17 claims described as “Injunctions” (in contrast to 8 in 2020). Finally, there were 18 claims classified as “Miscellaneous” and two as “Other”.
As in 2020 , a striking feature of the 2021 claims in the M&C List is that a very small number of defamation claims were brought against national newspapers and broadcasters. There were only 5 defamation claims against newspapers (2020, 21): 3 against Associated Newspapers Limited, the publishers of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday and 2 against Times Newspapers Limited. There were also 2 defamation claims against the BBC.
In addition, there were 6 privacy claims issued against Channel 5 and one against Associated Newspapers. It should be noted that phone hacking claims are not included in this list as they continue to be issued in the Chancery Division.
These figures must be viewed with a small degree of caution. The classification of cases is an administrative act and is not always accurate (we noted one data protection claim wrongly classified as defamation). Many cases include claims for several causes of action and their categorisation may not reflect the substantive nature of the case. Nevertheless, the 2021 trend is fairly clear – a large increase in data protection claims, an increase in defamation claims and a reduction in privacy claims.
One interesting footnote. In contrast to the large increase in claims in 2021 over 2020 , 2022 appears to show a substantial decline. In the first 3 months of the year there were only 50 new claims issued in the M&C List, compared to the 126 issued in the same period in 2021 (and 77 in 2020). It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary anomaly or a long term trend.