Mediahuis/INM fails to stall data breach case

Company has 42 days to file a defence in suit taken by Karl Brophy and Gavin O’Reilly

Karl Brophy and Gavin O’Reilly are suing INM/Mediahuis as well as Leslie Buckley over the alleged leaking and ‘interrogation’ of their personal data in 2014. Photograph: iStock

Karl Brophy and Gavin O’Reilly are suing INM/Mediahuis as well as Leslie Buckley over the alleged leaking and ‘interrogation’ of their personal data in 2014. Photograph: iStock

 

Mediahuis Ireland, formerly known as Independent News & Media (INM), has lost an application to stall a High Court case taken against it by former INM executives Gavin O’Reilly and Karl Brophy over an alleged data breach.

Mr Justice Garrett Simons has also ordered the company to file a defence to their claims within 42 days, or face having judgment entered against it.

Mediahuis, which is still listed as INM in the proceedings although the company has since been renamed, sought the stay after Mr Brophy, INM’s former corporate affairs director, and Mr O’Reilly, its former chief executive, tried to force it to file a defence.

The two men are suing INM/Mediahuis as well as Leslie Buckley over the alleged leaking and “interrogation” of their personal data in 2014 in a secret overseas operation that the State’s corporate affairs watchdog, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), says was overseen by Mr Buckley. He is INM’s former chairman and was a board representative of its former major shareholder, Denis O’Brien.

It is alleged that other INM board members knew nothing about the 2014 data trawl of the company’s IT system and emails, which has sparked a series of legal claims against the company, including several from people whose data was secretly accessed and who are known as the INM 19.

Defending the claims

Mediahuis, which subsequently bought INM from Mr O’Brien and its other shareholders, is defending those claims. The data incident is among several allegations that are being investigated by High Court inspectors appointed in 2018 after an application by the ODCE. In the meantime, the Data Protection Commission has already found that the data interrogation broke the law.

INM recently sought a stay on Mr Brophy and Mr O’Reilly’s case pending the findings of the High Court inspectors. It argued there would be “overlap” with the case, it said there would be a “waste of resources” in the duplication, and it said it had to see the inspectors’ findings before proceeding with the case.

Mr Brophy and Mr O’Reilly argued they were constitutionally entitled to proceed with their case without delay and said the inspectors were “inquisitorial finders of fact” and the court in their case could always deviate from the inspectors’ findings if it wanted.

The judge said he was “somewhat surprised” that no director of the company swore an affidavit as part of the stay application, relying instead on an outside solicitor with no direct knowledge of the facts. He said the company’s arguments were “misconceived” and he noted it made its arguments against a background where it had failed to file a defence.

He said a delay would be “out of all proportion”. He said the company might face extra expense, which it could recoup if it won, but a delay would infringe on Mr Brophy and Mr O’Reilly’s constitutional rights.

‘Not a surrogate’

The judge said the company had “failed to put forward any countervailing factor” as to why there should be a delay and the inspectors report was “not a surrogate” for proceeding with the case.

He refused the stay application and suggested the company should pay costs of the application – thought to be more than €100,000 – although a final ruling on costs has yet to be delivered.

He gave the company 42 days to file a defence, which he said was longer than the 28 days that would usually be given because of Christmas holidays.

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