An employee of Gozo General Hospital has been found not guilty of having breaching data protection laws when he obtained information on the mental health of his estranged wife and presented this in annulment proceedings before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.

The man, whose identity was not disclosed by the court, had refused to reveal how he obtained such information.

His wife had complained to the Data Protection Commissioner.

An internal Board of Inquiry was set up to investigate how copies of the clinical notes drawn up by a medical professional dealing with the case when the woman was receiving treatment at the Gozo General Hospital, had ended up before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.

However, investigations by the board had been inconclusive and no disciplinary action was taken against any officers “since no concrete evidence or chronological sequence of events was presented.”

In the course of criminal proceedings against the husband over the alleged breach of data protection law, Magistrate Joseph Mifsud heard how the system of marking or booking medical files had been somewhat inaccurate.

Moreover, the accused might have got hold of his wife’s records when files were sometimes left lying around, the court was told.

Whilst observing that the woman’s right to privacy had been breached, the court commented that the manner whereby such sensitive personal data had ended up in her husband’s hands was "morally unacceptable," pointing out that the man had exploited his contacts in hospital to get hold of the information.

However, it was also observed that the sensitive data had been used solely to support legal claims within the highly confidential proceedings before the Tribunal, which allowed no access to extraneous third parties. Moreover, the documents had been presented as ‘secret acts’ with very restricted access.

For these reasons the court acquitted the accused but pointed out that he ought to have consulted his lawyer to find a way that was “morally and ethically correct” to make sure that such sensitive data reached the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.

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