HC Deb 09 February 1981 vol 998 cc598-9
40. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Attorney-General what representations he has received about the rights of doctors to refuse to reveal to courts matters related to them in confidence by patients.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

None, Sir.

Mr. Janner

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the recent case in which a psychiatric nurse was required to reveal in court information of a highly confidential nature given to her by a patient? Has not the time come when doctors, nurses and, indeed, priests should be given the came protection regarding confidential informantion given to them as at present lies within the realm of privilege in respect of informantion given by clients to lawyers?

The Attorney-General

The hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that one always has to strike a balance between the interests of maintaining a confidential relationship and the interests of justice. This matter was considered in 1977 by the Law Reform Committee, which concluded that no requirement was necessary for it. It is within the terms of reference of the Law Commission's forthcoming report on the law of confidentiality. It may be that something will be set out in the report.

Mr. Archer

Is not this one more example of the question how far the public interest requires that information disclosed in confidence for one purpose should not be used for a different purpose? Would not Mr. Attorney agree that this is the question that arose in the Harriet Harman case? Is it not a little unfair that questions of the balance of public interest should be left to the courts when they are essentially political questions? Will he suggest at some stage to his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor that either a Royal Commission or some other form of inquiry should consider the whole question?

The Attorney-General

The question refers to confidentiality so far as doctors are concerned. That is what I was answering.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the Attorney-General examine the new possibilities that have emerged for general practitioners to use more software and computerised information? Will he make sure that there is no way in which confidentiality is broken, taking into account, for example, the needs of people on supplementary benefit, those receiving allowances and similar benefit? Does he agree that such breaches would be a great disadvantage to the patient of the general practitioner?

Mr. Attorney-General

As this practice develops, the more it will be necessary to keep an eye on the consequences of it.