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Filing System

Key Points

  • Please see our summary GDPR card here
  • Under the DPA 1998  one of the categories of information that was defined as ‘data’ was information which is recorded as part of a 'relevant filing system'. Under the GDPR and the DPA 2018 there is no reference to a 'relevant filing system' although there is a short definition of a filing sysytem


Filing System

A filing system means any structured set of personal data which is accessible according to specific criteria, whether held by automated means or manually and whether centralised or dispersed on a functional or geographical basis (section 3(7) DPA 2018) and Article 4(6) GDPR

In Dawson-Damer & Ors v Taylor Wessing LLP &Ors [2019] EWHC 1258 (Ch) the High Court considered whether paper files formed part of a relevant filing system. In this decision, the High Court departed from the Court of Appeal decision in Durant v FSA [2004] FSR 573. It held that Taylor Wessing's paper files held on behalf of a trustee (Ms Dawson-Damer and her adult children were the beneficiaries of a Bahamian discretionary trust) under a generic client description and arranged in chronological order were a 'relevant filing system' for the purpose of the old DPA 1998. The Court concluded that the ECJ's approach is Tietosuojavaltuutettu Case C-25/17 should be followed which decided that the form and criteria of the data collected is irrelevant and the retrievability of the information was the important factor. The Court  found that the files could be 'easily retrieved' because the files were arranged chronologically and  a page turning exercise was not unduly onerous.

This case is relevant for the definition of filing system under the GDPR and the DPA 2018 since this legislation also contains a definition of filing syste, and applies to personal data held in it. Article 12(5) of the GDPR excludes requests that are 'manifestly unfounded or excessive'.