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Statement on Decision 190/2010 Thomas Smith and the Scottish Ministers

Statement: 19 November 2010


The Scottish Information Commissioner has today issued Decision 190/2010 Thomas Smith and the Scottish Ministers. The case involves a request for the names of the doctors who had diagnosed the condition and prognosis of life expectancy of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi.

Mr Smith argued for the release of the names of the doctors concerned so that they could be made answerable to the public for their diagnosis and prognosis by being subject to the scrutiny of the media.

The Commissioner found that the association of the doctors with the treatment of Mr Al-Megrahi's medical condition greatly enhanced the sensitivity surrounding the disclosure of their names and would impact negatively on them and on their families. The Commissioner considered that an 'irreconcilable tension' between the demands of the media and the professional and legal obligations of the doctors in this case was likely to cause the doctors unwarranted distress. He noted that the doctors would not be able to comment to the media about Mr Al-Megrahi's physical or mental health without breaching the Data Protection Act 1998 and their obligations under doctor/patient confidentiality, given that Mr Al-Megrahi had not consented to the release of any medical information over and above that already published by the Scottish Government.

The decision also explains that the Commissioner must consider only whether the authority responded correctly, in law, to the request at the time it was made. In this particular case, since Mr Smith made his request, a national newspaper has reportedly published the names of the doctors. However, the Commissioner cannot take these reports into account. He can look only at whether the Scottish Government gave the correct response to Mr Smith in January this year.

Accordingly the Commissioner has concluded that the Scottish Government is not required to disclose the names of the doctors.

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