It is important to note that UK Data Protection law provides no barrier to voicing concerns to a safeguarding authority when it concerns vulnerable children and adults. In fact, UK law provides a pathway to allow you to make an assessment of the risk to the data subjects, along with the process of sharing with others who can provide protection.
Following the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, and subsequent jailing of his Father and Step-Mother for his death, I wanted us to highlight that Data Protection Law is no barrier to sharing information with safeguarding teams. Whilst public authorities need express powers to share information, I have adapted a scenario to show a logical flow of actions a Data Controller can take to ensure that they “share” concerns first.
This follows a logical flow of management actions that justifies sharing. We await the public inquiry to determine if this was the case but there is form.
Is data protection law a hindrance?
In my studies, I have seen serious case reviews highlight the risk of professionals caught like rabbits in headlights fearing Data Protection Law a hindrance. This is not the first such horrific case of child abuse. In 2000, Victoria Climbié died after being admmitted to hospital with 128 different injuries, caused by adults who should have been providing care. Those adults were eventually sent to prison for her murder. A public inquiry led by Lord Laming changed the way authorities deals with these cases.
In an official inquiry report into her death and the failings of the system, it was stated that professionals were reluctant to share information on her welfare which contributed to her death. Lord Laming stated in s.146 of the report:
However, I was told that the free exchange of information about children and families about whom there are concerns is inhibited by the legislation on data protection and human rights. It appears that, unless a child is deemed to be in need of protection, information cannot be shared between agencies without staff running the risk of contravening this legislation. This has two consequences: either it deters information sharing, or it artificially increases concerns in order that they can be expressed as the need for protection. (s.146 The Victoria Climbié Inquiry)
The full report can be read here.
Data sharing for public authorities
We at DPAS run a Data Sharing Course, but it might be timely to develop this course further to support Public Authorities. This may help them understand the legal gateway allowing them to share information relating to those at risk. In the meantime I hope the scenario will assist in understanding some of the main considerations and learning points required in these situations.
However in conclusion my request to you is simple. “If in doubt, share!”
by Nigel Gooding, LLM Information Rights Law & Practice
Nigel is founder of the Data Privacy Advisory Service, and he plays a vital part in our success. Due to his extensive experience, Nigel is recognised as a leading expert in the industry.