Legal Updates

Data Protection – Freedom of Information Request – Final Court of Appeal

The NHS is preparing to take a dispute relating to the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) to the final court of appeal in the UK. It is expected that his is going to be a landmark case which will be an example of 'a readily defensible decision in Freedom of Information and data protection’.

In January 2005, the NHS National Service Scotland made the decision that it would only release limited details in response to an FOI request. The FOI request, which came from a researcher for a Green Member of the Scottish Parliament, concerned records of leukaemia in children under the age of 15 in Dumfries and Galloway. Specifically, the researcher wanted to find out whether there were any cancer ‘hotspots’ next the Chapelcross nuclear plant or the Dundrennan military range. The case eventually ended up with the Scottish Information Commissioner, who ruled in the researcher’s favour.

The NHS, however, refused to hand over the requested data and appealed to the court of session to alter the decision. In a landmark ruling, the court rejected the arguments put forward by the NHS and upheld the Information Commissioner’s findings. The NHS is now appealing against the court of session's decision, making this the first time a public body has taken an FOI dispute to the UK's final court of appeal.

The Information Commissioner went to considerable trouble discussing how the data might have been supplied, and quoting examples of other cases such as Regina v Department of Health ex parte. Source Informatics Ltd. However, the NHS felt that to produce information using raw census data at ward level would be unfair to the individuals concerned as they would be identifiable by that data.

We await the outcome of this decision.

Please contact us for information on how to treat personal data of individuals at or Visit

© RT COOPERS, 2007. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.




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