News - Nicola Newbegin successful before the Privy Council in Information Law Case

Data Protection and Information Law - Nicola Newbegin

On Monday 13th May 2019, the Privy Council gave judgment in the case of Singh v Public Service Commission (PSC) (Trinidad and Tobago) [2019] UKPC 18.  Mr Singh was refused a job on the basis that his particular degree was not recognised even though he had previously been advised by officials to take that degree.  As part of a possible claim in relation to the same, Mr Singh requested documentation from the PSC under Trinidad & Tobago’s Freedom of Information Act 1999 (“FOIA”).  Unfortunately, the PSC did not provide a substantive response within the statutory time limits for doing so and did not comply in any meaningful way with the pre-action protocol.  As a result, Mr Singh issued judicial review proceedings.  A day later he received a substantive response from the PSC, leading to Mr Singh withdrawing his judicial review application.  The case concerned whether Mr Singh should be awarded his costs in these circumstances.  The Privy Council, overruling the Trinidad & Tobago Court of Appeal, held that he should.  In doing so, the Privy Council emphasised the importance of compliance with pre-action protocols in order to avoid litigation and the need for courts, including the Court of Appeal, to consider whether that non-compliance had led to Mr Singh issuing proceedings and as such whether he was “the innocent party” who should be placed in the position he would have been in had the PSC complied with the pre-action protocol.

In terms of the importance of the case, the Privy Council noted that “The FOIA is designed to give ordinary people prompt access to documents about their affairs held by public authorities, at affordable cost to themselves, in circumstances where a failure to respond even with a decision within the statutory time limit leaves the applicant only with a judicial remedy, which will inevitably involve the incurring of substantial legal costs”.  The Privy Council noted that the imposition of costs “ought to be a useful warning against unexplained official delay”.

Nicola was led by Anand Ramlogan SC, Freedom Law Chambers, Trinidad & Tobago, instructed by Alvin Pariagsingh.

To view the judgment, please click here.

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