The recent proliferation of CCTV cameras, including the often-mentioned Ring Doorbell, is beginning to cause disputes between neighbours complaining of lack of privacy.
The first case directly dealing with these issues was decided by Her Honour Judge Mellissa Clarke in the Oxford County Court on 12 October 2021 [Dr Mary Fairhurst v John Woodard – Oxford County Court, G00MK161 – 12 October 2021].
Facts of the case
In Fairhurst and Woodard, the Claimant Dr Fairhurst brought a claim against her neighbour for harassment, nuisance and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 arising from Mr Woodard’s use of several security cameras and lights at and around his home.
The judge found that there were a number of cameras around the defendant’s property and it was an issue in the case as to the field and depth of view of them, the sensitivity of microphones attached to them, and how and for what purpose information was stored and processed (this included video and audio files).
The claimant claimed that once she was aware of the audio and visual devices recording her movements at the front and rear of her property, she was left in such distress that she had to leave her home on 29 April 2019 and had not been able to return there. She sought damages, an injunction for removal of two of the cameras and further forbidding the installation of any further cameras.
The case was fact heavy and the parties were opposed on many issues.
The judge examined the relevant law as follows:
Her Honour Judge Mellissa Clarke found that applying the law to the facts, the defendants conduct did amount to harassment and the claimant was entitled to damages for distress.
On the question of nuisance, the judge found that living in a town where night-time lights are a feature, the light interference did not amount to an undue interference with her use of the property and did not find that the amenity value of the property was materially reduced for the period during which the relevant camera/light was operating.
In respect of Data Protection, the judge was satisfied that the claimant’s claim that the defendant had breached the provisions of the DPA 2018 and the UK GDPR and accordingly the claimant was entitled to compensation and orders preventing the defendant from continuing to breach her rights in the same or similar manner in the future.
The judge reserved the question of injunctive relief and damages over to another hearing.
The significance of this case
The case is very important as it shows that County Court Judges are willing to find that modern security equipment can give rise to claims of both harassment and data protection.It can only be guessed what the costs of the parties incurred in this matter were, but they were clearly substantial in what was a fiercely contested case terminating in a two day County Court trial. Every case is different and obtaining the facts of each case as early as possible is going to be critical.
For more information on this please contact our Property Litigation Team here.
This article was written by Stephen Eccles, Partner in the Residential Property Litigation Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of November 2021.