Line to take - LTT74 - Consistent treatment of confidential information

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  • FOI/EIR: FOI
  • Section/Regulation: s41
  • Issue: Consistent treatment of confidential information
  • Source: Information Tribunal
  • Details: S / General Register Office (9 May 2007)
  • Related Lines to Take: n/a
  • Related Documents: EA/2006/0030
  • Contact: EW
  • Date: 11/10/2007
  • Policy Reference: LTT74
  • © Copyright Information Commissioner's Office, re-used with permission
  • Original source linked from here: LTT

Line to take

The fact that a public authority discloses information in breach of confidence does not mean that it is then entitled to disclose either that information again, or other information also provided in confidence.

Further Information

In the case of S v the ICO and the General Register Office (GRO) the complainant had requested a copy of a letter from the individual (the Informant) who had registered the death of the complainant’s brother, sent in response to a letter from the Registrar seeking clarification of the Informant’s whereabouts at the time of death. The complainant submitted that confidential information provided by her own family had previously been disclosed to the Informant, and that therefore the information the complainant had requested should not be deemed to be confidential and should be disclosed to her in turn.

She argued that the disclosure of information provided by her family in confidence demonstrated that, “the asserted policy of confidentiality is not genuine and/or is applied selectively and that the stated policy is therefore a false basis for treating the information provided by the Informant as having been provided in confidence since it is not ordinarily applied in practice.” (para 85)

The Tribunal rejected this argument. It accepted that the complainant’s family’s correspondence had not been treated as confidential but considered that this had no bearing on its decision that s41 still applied to the information provided by the Informant. It decided that this inconsistency in approach indicated a lack of good practice or understanding rather than evidence that no duty of confidentiality exists.

Also in this case, the public authority had previously given the complainant information provided to it by the Informant in confidence, in breach of that confidence. The Tribunal confirmed however that a public authority that discloses confidential information is not then entitled to do so again. It stated that it was, “satisfied that if information has been disclosed in breach of confidence [...], the [public authority] would not be entitled to rely upon that earlier breach of confidence to support an additional or subsequent breach of confidence.” (para 76)