Court email accidentally sent to the wrong people

Circuit Court and District Court offices warned about data protection

Court offices have been instructed to edit group email lists receiving court lists and remove entries that do not include legal practitioners, prosecution practitioners, An Garda Síochána and similar. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Court offices have been instructed to edit group email lists receiving court lists and remove entries that do not include legal practitioners, prosecution practitioners, An Garda Síochána and similar. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Court offices around the country have been warned about data protection after information on a court case was mistakenly sent to a group of people that should not have received it.

The information was shared with the wrong email group in March and related to a case that had been heard earlier in a court in the west of the country.

The single-page document contained a court order and the name and address of an accused person.

It should have been sent only to court office staff, but was sent to a wide group of court users. One such user contacted the Courts Service to alert it to the mistake.

The service has said the information was shared due to “a simple human error”.

“This was a simple mistake of an email going to the wrong address,” a spokesman said.

He added that the service was satisfied there was no breach of data protection as the details in the email resulted from an earlier court hearing, had already been aired publicly and contained “information people would read in any daily newspaper report on courts”.

John Coyle, head of operations for the Circuit and District Courts subsequently examined samples of group email addresses and said they “caused some concern”.

Range of organisations

In an email to court offices, sent on March 17th, he said from his “cursory examination”, it seemed a range of individuals and organisations were included in some email groups, including local media and local credit unions.

He said he understood some, if not all offices had arrangements in place to circulate court lists, which provide data about forthcoming cases, to various parties via an office group email address.

“Naturally, I assume, if you are circulating family law lists, entries thereon are anonymised,” he said.

Though lists of Circuit Court cases are published on the Courts Service website, lists of District Court cases are not.

Mr Coyle said that while it may be useful to legal practitioners to have advance notice of court lists, he could see no justification for the information proceeding beyond legal practitioners, prosecution practitioners, An Garda Síochána and similar.

He instructed court offices to edit group email lists and remove entries that did not include those groups. He also warned that staff in offices transmitting court or any documents by email to other offices “should exercise extreme care in transmitting them to group email addresses”.

“Indeed I would advise that the practice should be actively discouraged,” he said.

In a statement to The Irish Times, a Courts Service spokesman said one issue that arose following the incident was that court offices were sending District Court lists in advance to groups which contained people from “outside the immediate justice community”.

Offices were asked to discontinue the practice, he said, because the lists were only in draft form, were open to change “on an hourly basis”, some matters may not have yet appeared in court and there could be inaccuracies with names and identification of the accused person at a first hearing.

“It was felt that such draft information might be better only sent to gardaí, Prison Service and Probation Service, etc, to avoid it leading to the wrongful identification of some person in advance of a court appearance,” the spokesman said.

“This changed approach has now happened in a uniform manner across the country.”