Four Million Pints of Lager and a Million Packets of Crisps

July 1, 2010

One of my claims to fame is that, in the course of my grand cultural tour, I found myself in central Munich one night and spent two hours in a fruitless search for a bierkeller (I am using the term ‘cultural tour’ loosely). I have never met anyone else who couldn’t find a bierkeller in Munich – piss up and brewery are often mentioned when I tell this story. I blame some sort of high level thought experiment – clearly the bierkellers were there but we could not see them because the true drinkers didn’t want spotty tourists to join them. I very nearly got run over by a tram though – which would have been quite a good way to go for someone from Fleetwood.

Given that background, I am not sure that anything that I say about {Bavarian Lager:} has credibility. But for me the case which the Court of Justice press release says ‘defines the scope of the protection of personal data in the context of access to documents of the Union institutions’ was a terrible waste of money. Does it define the scope of anything? In my view, it helps to define the limits of sensible legal action, but only by way of bad example.

The Court closes with the telling lines: ‘Bavarian Lager has not provided any express and legitimate justification or any convincing argument in order to demonstrate the necessity for those personal data to be transferred’. I am not surprised that the Bavarian Lager’s legal team didn’t supply such a ‘convincing argument’ – perhaps they settled for an opening (and closing) submission along the following lines: ‘We don’t care any more. The meeting was in 1996, the issue at stake (pubs closed to guest bottles) has long since been resolved and we have access to all but a tiny portion of the information we originally sought. Can we all go to the pub and talk about football now?’

There were major issues that might have been covered in this case. The Opinion of Advocate General Sharpston shows this (and is quite persuasive). But there surely had to be a point when the Commission and the UK Government realised that it just wasn’t worth further expenditure pursuing this issue {i}in this context{/i}. I know there are sensible arguments about public expenditure being used for job creation but I don’t think middle-aged lawyers are the proper target for any such expenditure that might be justified. Ironically, the arguments ended up sounding like one of those drink-fuelled discussions in a pub that can never be usefully resolved: would England have reached the World Cup semis if Laurenzio had been manager instead of Fabio?

At the end of the judgment of the Court of Justice, I was troubled by this question: how could the expenditure on these proceedings have been more usefully spent? Buying four million pints of lager and a million packets of crisps was one of very many correct answers.