Using a right to be forgotten for a divorce case
The media might decide to publish details about your divorce case, particularly if you are a celebrity or a public figure. In many cases, there isn't any public interest in news articles about a couple who get divorced, particularly a few months or a few years after the divorce case was concluded. It means that you could make a successful right to be forgotten request in relation to publications about the divorce case.
F.A. was the manager of a successful UK hedge fund. He started the business 15 years ago and is a known figure among the UK and Europe financial investment industry. F.A. had been married to G.A for nearly 13 years and they have two young children.
3 years ago, F.A. and G.A. decided to get divorced. Unfortunately, the divorce was acrimonious. It involved large sums of money and two famous people and as such it attracted the attention of the press. At the start of the divorce proceedings, G.A., a successful businesswoman by her own right, had made allegations to the police that F.A. had assaulted her. The police charged G.A. with assaulting his wife and he stood a trial in a central London Crown Court.
Naturally, the criminal trial also attracted media attention. Unlike the case with divorce proceedings, the press is free to report from criminal trials, including what witnesses say, so the allegations against F.A. were reported all over the papers for some weeks. F.A. was found not guilty of the assault on his wife. The parties completed their divorce proceedings and both wanted to move on with their lives.
Unfortunately, whenever someone carried out a search for F.A.’s name or for G.A.'s name on Google, Bing and Yahoo, the search results produced nearly 3 pages of news reports from F.A.'s criminal trial and from the divorce proceedings. This had affected F.A.’s reputation very badly. Despite being found not guilty of assaulting his former wife, there were always going to be people who would believe that “there is no smoke without fire” so F.A. always felt that he needed to explain himself to business associates. F.A. also found it difficult to form new personal relationships as women he dated often viewed him with a degree of suspicion.
Both F.A. and G.A. started to notice that their two young children were being excluded from play dates and from sleepovers. Although nothing was being said, it was clear to them that the news articles had influenced concerned parents to not allow their children to associate with F.A.’s children.
F.A. had first approached his lawyers, a large City firm, for help. The firm had made a number of applications to Google and to Bing to delist from searches articles that mention both the divorce and the criminal proceedings.
All the search engines concluded that F.A. did not have sufficient reasons for his right to be forgotten submission to the request and was refused categorically. The main objections by the search engines to refuse to delist the articles was that F.A. was a public figure, that the reports were fairly recent and that there was public interest in the news articles.
His lawyers then advised F.A. to avoid taking matters further because this could result in additional adverse publicity for him. Eventually his personal lawyer decided to refer F.A. to the specialist solicitor Yair Cohen, whom she knew personally from previous dealings as an expert lawyer for dealing with right to be forgotten requests and for handling search engine legal matters generally.
First, we worked persistently to remove all the links to the articles which referred to the divorce and to the criminal proceedings from all the major search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing. This involved serving right to be forgotten GDPR Notices as well as filing a GDPR claim against Google for beaching of F.A. data. We assured F.A. that his High Court claim was going to be anonymised to ensure that it does not attract any attention or reporting by the press. Once we had successfully facilitated the removal of all the links from the main search pages, we turned to the removal of images from Google, Bing and Yahoo image libraries.
After we completed the delisting of all the links from Google and from other search engines, our next challenge was Removing autosuggestion from Google. We were ready to request the removal of half a dozen auto suggestions, which indirectly referred to articles that had been delisted from the search engines in relation to F.A.’s name.
Having succeeded with the removal of the autosuggestions, we decided to extend the original Right to be forgotten request to include F.A.s name plus his profession/his company/his place of work and a few other search phrases that would result in the links to some of the unwanted articles appearing on search results.
The most challenging aspect of this project, however, was an unexpected resistance from Yahoo in relation to the removal of auto suggestions. This issue was eventually resolved after we served Yahoo with a draft High Court claim under GDPR. All in all, we have removed 68 different links to articles about F.A. on search engines.
Once we had completed this task, it transpired that some of the search engines still presented links to the unwanted news articles and images of F.A. when someone searched for his former wife’s name, G.A. We therefore had to approach each of the search engines again and request that they take the unusual step of removing search results about F.A. when the actual search which was carried out was for somebody else’s name (his former wife G.A.).
This, strictly speaking, went far beyond the provisions of the right to be forgotten but the good news is that all the search engines agreed to our request. Having successfully removed all the links which relate to F.A.'s criminal proceedings and divorce from all the major search engines, we were instructed by G.A. to do the same for her, which we did, very successfully.
This was a particularly challenging right to be forgotten project. We took on this matter after a number of unsuccessful applications by F.A.’s regular law firm who effectively advised him to give up. I am glad he was eventually referred to us. It is common for search engines to refuse initial right to be forgotten requests, provided they can show that they have sufficient grounds for the refusal.
Those who assess the right to be forgotten requests for Google and for other search engines often make an emotional decision, based on how THEY feel about the applicant. The allegations made against F.A. at the Crown Court were of serious assault against a vulnerable woman. It appears that despite being found not guilty, the content moderator at Google, Bing and Yahoo took a view that F.A. “deserved” links to the articles to remain online.
Often, with cases like this, we need to facilitate a conversation with the search engines’ lawyers before we can secure the delisting of the offending news articles. All in all, both F.A. and G.A. have seen an outcome which exceeded their expectations. This outcome is particularly positive for the future of their children.