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Motive Not Sufficient Reason to Deny Subject Access Request

One of the dilemmas the courts face from time to time is how to achieve the right balance between individual privacy and the public's right to know about things.

In a recent case, a patient who had made a complaint against a GP sought publication of the expert report into the matter commissioned by the General Medical Council (GMC). The report had exonerated the GP and recommended that no disciplinary action be taken.

The GMC decided that the patient's request should be treated as a 'subject access request' (SAR) under the Data Protection Act 1998 and that the report should be made available to the patient. The GP opposed this and launched judicial review proceedings to prevent it. When the High Court upheld the GP's challenge, the GMC appealed the decision.

The GMC argued that the patient had a legitimate interest in understanding the grounds and evidence on which it had decided not to take action against the GP. The GP's fear was chiefly that the patient was considering taking legal action against him and wanted the report to aid that purpose.

However, in the view of the Court of Appeal, even if litigation was the principal motive for the request, that was not sufficient reason for denying it: disclosure was ordered.