Sharing information is an important part of multi-agency collaboration and keeping people safe. It's essential to understand a person's right to confidentiality when they have not consented to their personal information being shared. Professionals have a duty of confidentiality to their clients.
All organisations need robust methods for information sharing both within and between agencies, including defining what can be shared, when and with whom. It's sometimes necessary to breach confidentiality in order to keep someone (adult or child) safe, where the aim is to protect them from risk of significant harm.
Sharing information without consent risks losing the person's trust and can further endanger them. The risks of sharing information must be considered; it should always be with the aim of protecting someone and reducing risk, not just to alert other agencies to a problem.
If the decision is made to share information and consent has not been given, wherever possible it should be done with the person's knowledge.
When a person has not consented, the following legislation allows information to be shared in certain circumstances:
The Data Protection Act 1998
The Act relates to the handling of personal data. There are eight principles to the Data Protection Act.
- Personal Data must be processed 'Fairly and lawfully' - the person must not mislead, there must be legitimate reason and the information must be processed according to the law
- Personal data being processed must be for specified purposes
- Personal information must be appropriate for the purpose - relevant, adequate, not excessive
- Personal information must be accurate. It must not be 'inaccurate' if it is misleading
- Personal data must not be kept longer than is necessary
- Personal data must be processed in accordance with the person's rights; includingg the right to know what data is held and for what reason
- Personal data must be handled securely
- Personal data must not be transferred to a country without adequate reciprical agreements
The Human Rights Act 1998
Articles 2 and 3 refer to a person's absolute right to life and their absolute freedom from torture and degrading treatment. For relevant agencies to uphold these rights it may be necessary to share information.
Article 8 of HRA recognises a right to respect for private and family life. However, the right is not absolute and because absolute rights trump non-absolute rights, in certain circumstances information can be shared. Proportionality tests apply.
The Children Act 1989
The Children Act 1989 included a specific power (section 47) to share information as part of child protection enquiries.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998
Section 115 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 permits relevant authorities to share information for crime prevention purposes. The Common Law Duty of Confidentiality and the Data Protection Act still apply.
The Common Law Duty of Confidentiality
A Duty of Confidentiality exists when a person receives information that they know, or ought to know, is being given in confidence.