The Edinburgh Gazette And Protected Trust Deeds

2nd July 2014

Until a few months ago a signed trust deed was “advertised” in the Edinburgh Gazette. The purpose was to alert creditors that might have been forgotten (or deliberately not mentioned to a trustee) that the named debtor had appointed an insolvency practitioner.

The Edinburgh Gazette itself isn’t a widely read publication. In fact it would largely only be read by certain types of professionals. However, advertisements and notices published would appear on their website. This enables an interested professional, historian or researcher to review the records. It is also searchable by members of the public.

Because the information is online, there has always been a possibility that the records would be indexed by search engines and provided in search results. For example, if you’re named John James Smith and you Google “John James Smith” the Edinburgh Gazette entry for your trust deed might come up in the search results.

Anecdotally, few people appear to have found that this was the case in the past. A couple of years ago one of our forum experts (Kevin Mapstone) conducted online searches on a few previous clients with uncommon names and didn’t find that their Gazette advertisements were returned in the search results.

Search engines choose what results to display based upon algorithms. These algorithms change frequently (Google says theirs changes hundreds of times a year) which means the results you get for the same online search will change over time.

Recently a number of Trust-Deed.co.uk forum members have reported that their Edinburgh Gazette entries are now appearing very prominently in search engine results when they search using their own name. This is likely to have resulted from an algorithmic change at Google that has resulted in Edinburgh Gazette results returning more prominently.

Understandably, this has caused some concern. The advertisement contains your full name, address and confirms your entry into a personal insolvency process. Most people, for a variety of reasons personal to their individual circumstances, would be concerned by this.

Personal insolvency has always been a matter of public record. Any of us are able to search the insolvency registers for information if we need or choose to. This is however somewhat different to inadvertently stumbling into such a record online because you’re trying to find someone’s Facebook account, LinkedIn entry or Twitter profile via Google. The potential for embarrassment and other (perhaps more serious) negative outcomes is significant.

The Edinburgh Gazette has confirmed to our members that the records on their website are permanent. However, they re-code their webpages differently four years and eleven months after the date of the original advertisement. The purpose of this change is to prevent most search engines from indexing the results and therefore removing them from search results.

Under the new system, the “Register of Insolvencies”, details about Scottish trust deeds continue to be publicly available. The difference is that you have to register on their website to search the results. We understand that this means search engines will not index the pages and therefore cannot show them in search results.

This suggests that the Scottish Government and/or Accountant in Bankruptcy don’t consider that details about personal insolvencies need to be available directly via search engines. The register is searchable by anyone, but doesn’t seek to promote its’ contents beyond that. The relevant purposes are served via the register alone.

We therefore believe that the operators of the Edinburgh Gazette should immediately consider re-coding all of their personal insolvency pages immediately to prevent search engine indexing. Waiting until four years and eleven months serves no generally agreed useful purpose. The current status is entirely out of keeping with the way that the new online Register of Insolvencies is set-up.  The negative consequences for affected individuals could be quite serious.

What can you do in the interim if you want to try to have an Edinburgh Gazette entry on yourself removed from the search engines?

You could contact them and appeal to their better nature. Thus far however members of our forum appear to have been rebuffed when they tried this.

Perhaps more productive might be using new European data protection law. A lawyer in Spain made a “right to be forgotten” case that his previous personal financial difficulties should not continue to be reported online. It has now been accepted that an individual might be entitled to have a search result removed where it is outdated, wrong, irrelevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which the information was originally processed. You can read more about on this subject in this Guardian article.

The search engines are now reacting to this. Google has created a page where individuals can report indexed web pages about which they’re the subject. If a website will not remove a page you’re concerned about, you can access the Google reporting form here.

It’s fairly straightforward to see how some people will have a good argument that their Edinburgh Gazette entry is now outdated and/or that it’s excessive in relation to the purposes for which it was originally processed. If such an entry is causing you detriment, or risks doing so, detailing your specific personal concerns is likely to strengthen your case. In terms of being “outdated”, your argument would seem to be strengthened if you have now been discharged from your trust deed. 

This subject appears likely to develop in the coming months. Either in our news section, or via our forum, we’ll report whether individuals have been able to use this new European data protection law to have their trust deed advertisement removed from major search engine results.

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