District Court’s Jurisdiction Extended to Hear Data Protection Actions

As of 11 January 2024, data protection actions can be heard and determined in the District Court if they fall within its monetary jurisdictional limit of up to €15,000. This change is a result of the commencement of section 77 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2023, amending Section 117 of the Data Protection Act 2018.

Prior to the amendment, Section 117 provided that data protection actions could only be taken in the Circuit or High Court, exposing defendants to the risk of disproportionate cost orders, even in cases where only nominal damages were likely to be awarded.

The Kaminski Decision

The District Court’s extended jurisdiction to hear data protection actions is a welcome development in circumstances where recent case law has indicated that damages for “non-material damage” (that is non-financial loss such as anxiety or distress) in such cases will likely be modest.

The Circuit Court’s decision in Kaminski v Ballymaguire Foods Limited1 in July 2023 provided helpful guidance on the level of compensation that may be awarded for non-material damage in data protection actions (see a previous McCann FitzGerald LLP briefing here). In its judgment, the Court awarded compensation of €2,000 for non-material damage and held that “even where non-material damage can be proved and is also not trivial, damages in many cases will probably be modest”, noting that in some cases damages could be less than €500.

The Circuit Court in Kaminski, followed the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in UI v Österreichische Post AG2 (the “Austrian Post Case”) and confirmed that the Irish courts cannot impose a minimum level of seriousness for non-material damage. The Court noted in Kaminski however that compensation for non-material damage does not cover “mere upset”. The non-material damage must be genuine and not speculative and damages must be proved, with supporting evidence “strongly desirable”.   

Significance of the Amendment

Owing to the amendment, and in light of the Kaminski decision, it is likely that a large proportion of data protection actions will now be taken in the District Court. This is a positive development for defendants as it places a much lower maximum figure on the compensation that can be awarded and, in particular, because the costs of defending a claim in the District Court will be lower than in the Circuit Court or High Court.

As District Court decisions are not published, one other implication of this development is that it may become more difficult to ascertain trends in data protection decisions at a national level. This is something we will keep apace of as the effects of this amendment become clearer over the coming months.

Also contributed to by Louise Mitchell and Thomas O’Keeffe.

  1. Arkadiusc Kaminski v Ballyguire Foods Limited [2023] IECC 5
  2. US v Österreichische Post AG (Case C-300/21)

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.