In Deer v University of Oxford, the Court of Appeal refused an application to order compliance with two subject access requests (SARs) made by Dr Deer, and in the process, clarified a number of issues under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). This appeal follows the recent ruling of Dawson-Damer v Taylor Wessing LLP [2017]. Dr Deer made two SARs against her former employer, the University of Oxford, in the context of an ongoing dispute regarding sex discrimination against and victimisation of Dr Deer. The University searched over 500,000 documents and disclosed 63 documents to Dr Deer. Dr Deer submitted that the University had not complied with its obligations under the DPA. The High Court held that the University was not required to take any further steps in compliance with the SAR as it would serve no useful purpose.

Dr Deer appealed this decision, but the Court of Appeal confirmed that the High Court had exercised its discretion within the permissible range when reaching this conclusion. The Court also confirmed that the obligation to search is limited to a reasonable and proportionate search. The Court held that this approach is consistent with EU law, albeit inconsistent with the views of the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Although Dr Deer’s appeal failed, it was noted by the Court that the motive behind Dr Deer’s SAR was not relevant. The right to a SAR is not subject to any express purpose or motive test.