In the recent case of Re A (A Child: Disclosure of Third Party Information), a vulnerable young woman made an allegation in confidence to the authorities that, while she was a child, she had been seriously sexually abused by the father of a ten-year-old child who was seeking contact with that child through the courts. She did not want any action to be taken on her allegations or her identity revealed. The father denied sexually abusing anyone and wanted the identity of the woman to be disclosed.

A consultant psychiatrist who had been treating the woman said that her physical health had deteriorated, at times to the point of being life-threatening, and that disclosure would be potentially detrimental to her health. The woman also argued that it would breach her Article 3 right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The court ordered the local authority to disclose, for the purposes of contact proceedings, the allegations of sexual abuse made by the woman against the child's father. It ruled that disclosure was justified under common-law principles and it did not breach her human rights.

Of importance was the need to properly investigate the allegations. The court was of the view that the woman could receive treatment from her psychiatric team to mitigate any suffering as a result of the disclosure. Alternatives to giving evidence in court could be considered, if necessary, e.g. a videotaped conversation with a specially trained police officer or social worker.

This case highlights the importance of carefully considering requests for disclosure of information and also ensuring that patients know that information they share may ultimately be disclosed, for example, within court proceedings.