This is intended as a brief overview only and is not a substitute for legal advice.

Courts and tribunals, and the judges and individuals who work in them, process personal data.

When doing so, they must act in accordance with the relevant legal provisions. These include the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018).

At times these laws make different provision or exemptions for courts and tribunals. For example, the Information Commissioner has certain functions under the legal provisions, but the DPA states that neither it nor the UK GDPR permits the Commissioner to exercise functions regarding the processing of data by an individual acting in a judicial capacity or a court or tribunal acting in its judicial capacity.  

The Lord President, Lord Carloway, appointed a senior judge as the Data Protection Supervising Judge (DPSJ). The DPSJ oversees the processing of personal data in Scotland in the above circumstances. The DPSJ also handles any complaints about the processing of personal data in a judicial capacity.

As another example, the UK Parliament decided  that it was necessary, in order to protect judicial independence and judicial proceedings, for the rights of the data subject to be limited where personal data is processed by an individual acting in a judicial capacity, or a court or tribunal acting in its judicial capacity. Accordingly, the DPA 2018 contains exemptions from those rights and so, for instance, a court, tribunal or individual who has processed personal data whilst acting in a judicial capacity can properly refuse to provide access to, or a copy of, such data and refuse to correct such data under data protection law.


Personal data is any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual. That is, a person who can be identified, directly or indirectly, by reference to a marker such as a name, an identification number, or IP address, or by one or more factors specific to that person. There are extra safeguards if the data relates to special categories of data, or to criminal convictions or offences. Special categories include information about a person’s racial or ethnic origin, their sex life or sexual orientation, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, political opinions, or health.


Courts and tribunals receive and process a great deal of personal data in relation to the cases they hear. The parties will submit evidence they wish to rely upon as well as make submissions on what they think should be drawn from it. This can include passports and birth and marriage certificates, witness statements, medical reports, police reports, financial statements, social work reports, CCTV etc. The processing of data in a judicial capacity can include consideration by a judge of evidence, and issuing judgments summarising the evidence and their conclusions. These judgments may be relied upon by the parties and shared publicly on the court or tribunal website and reported in law journals and in the media.

The general principle is that justice is to be administered by the courts in public. This is an aspect of the rule of law in a democracy. Generally therefore, there is no expectation that personal data processed by judicial office holders is private. That said, a judicial office holder may, in the course of legal proceedings, where they have the power, place restrictions on for example, reporting an individual’s name. They may also hold legal proceedings in private and order the media not to report on proceedings until a later date. However this is not due to the UK GDPR or the DPA. Individuals wishing to raise such matters in proceedings should seek their legal representative’s advice or obtain legal advice if unrepresented.

Further Information

If you wish further information about data protection law, you can contact the Information Commissioner at: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF / 0303 123 1113. Or visit the website.




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