International firm Taylor Wessing has fought off a data protection claim after refusing to supply documents relating to a trust fund’s history.
Ashley Judith Dawson-Damer, the wife of one of the beneficiaries of a multi-million-dollar fund based in the Bahamas, asked for data the firm held about them.
The firm acts in London for the Grampian Trust Company, which has been the sole trustee of a settlement over the fund since 1992.
The claimant and her adopted children, who were not beneficiaries of the trust, have a writ in the Bahamas challenging payments transferred out of the funds in the past 10 years.
Taylor Wessing said the information requested was subject to legal professional privilege. But the claimants insisted in the High Court last month that there was no reason why Taylor Wessing should not carry out a search and identify which documents were not subject to privilege.
Furthermore, they argued, when a trustee seeks legal advice in respect of the affairs of a trust, the trustee and beneficiaries have a joint interest, and joint privilege arises.
The privilege was not lost, put forward Jonathan Swift QC, ‘simply because the parties subsequently fall out’.
In August 2014, the claimants’ firm McDermott Will & Emery UK LLP sent Taylor Wessing subject-access requests on behalf of its three clients enclosing a cheque for £30 for the release of data.
Simon Taube QC, for Taylor Wessing, said it was not reasonable or proportionate to expect it to carry out any search, particularly after paying such a ‘modest’ fee.
He submitted that the question of disclosure will have to be considered and resolved by Grampian and its Bahamian lawyers in the proceedings in that country. Taylor Wessing’s files would form part of that exercise.
In Dawson-Damer & Ors v Taylor Wessing, His Honour Judge Behrens (pictured) said there was ‘virtually no evidence’ of any search carried out of its files, and it was possible that some of the personal data may not be covered by privilege.
‘In my view it was not reasonable or proportionate on the facts of this case for TW to carry out the necessary search to determine if any particular document was covered by privilege,’ he said. ‘In my view the real purpose of the subject-access requests was to obtain information to be used in connection with the Bahamian proceedings.’
He dismissed the application, but said his views were provisional and that he was minded to grant permission to appeal.