Gaskin v. the United Kingdom
European Court of Human Rights
7 July 1989
The applicant Mr. Gaskin had been in foster care as a child. As an adult he tried to obtain details of where he was kept, by whom and in what conditions in order to learn about his past and bring proceedings against the local authority for damages as a result of negligence. However, he was not granted access to data, as the courts found that the public interest in confidentiality of case records outweighed the applicant’s private interest in receiving access for the purpose of the proposed litigation. Subsequently the local authority confirmed a resolution that provided that the information in the applicant’s file should be made available to him if the contributors to the file consented to the disclosure. However, such consent was not given.
The applicant complained that the refusal to grant him access to all his case records violated his right to private life.
The Court ruled that the refusal to grant the applicant access to his case records was not proportionate. Thus the applicant’s right to private life had been violated.
The Court noted that the refusal to grant the applicant access to all his case records had a legitimate aim, namely, confidentiality of the contents of the files contributed to the effective operation of the child-care system by protecting not only the rights of contributors but also of the children in need of care.
The Court balanced the applicant’s right to access his data against the rights of other persons and found that:
- Persons in the situation of the applicant have a vital interest in receiving the information necessary to know and to understand their childhood and early development.
- On the other hand, confidentiality of public records is of importance for receiving objective and reliable information, and that such confidentiality can also be necessary for the protection of third persons.
- A system which makes access to such records dependent on the consent of the contributor, can be only seen as proportionate if it provides that an independent authority finally decides whether access has to be granted in cases where a contributor fails to answer or withholds consent. However, no such procedure was available to the applicant in the present case.