Full case report
Johnson v Home Office
Court Doncaster County Court
Judge Recorder Lodge QC
Date of Judgment 26 Jun 2003
Breach of Confidence – Damage to Reputation – Public Interest Defence – Negligence – Proximity – Foreseeability – Remoteness of Damage -Trial
C was a mental health social worker and the social supervisor of W. W had been found not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering his daughter & detained in a secure psychiatric hospital. He was later conditionally discharged on various terms including being under social supervision. W applied to the Mental Health Review Tribunal for absolute discharge. In 1995, C under statutory requirements prepared a report. It had a page marked Strictly Confidential and was sent to the D. Some information in that report was included by the Home Office in a later statement prepared for a further MHRT application (which W was entitled to see). Possibly alerted to C’s 1995 report by the Home Office report, W obtained a copy of C’s report from unknown sources. W’s relationship with C broke down. He became agressive & hostile towards C. C brought an action for breach of confidence claiming she suffered psychiatric damage & damage to her reputation, that her standing in the black community suffered.
Breach of Confidence:
(1) Did C have a right to sue for breach of confidence?
(2) If D owed a duty of confidence to C, was it in breach by including the information in its report?
(3) Was the damage too remote?
(4) Did the D owe C a duty of care under the Caparo Industries v Dickman test?
(5) If so was it breached and was their damage caused to C by that breach.
Dismissing the claim (i) that C had no right of confidence. The information in issue had been imparted to C by W’s parents who did not want W to know what had been said. The right of confidence was that of W’s parents. C had a duty to the MHRT to prepare a report. (ii) The third element of the Coco v Clark test (that the unauthorised use must be to the detriment of the party communicating it) was not met.
(iii) there was proximity between the parties such as to establish a duty of care and it was fair and reasonable to impose a duty of care on D (iv) the claim that C suffered damage by merely learning that confidential information had been disclosed to W was too remote and there had been no physical threat to her. (v) the claim for loss of standing in the Afro-Caribbean community was not made out on the evidence and in any event was too remote.
The information in issue was given by W’s parents to C in confidence. W’s parents did not want W to know what they had said. The decision is interesting for the strict application of Coco v Clark  RPC 41. It was held, following Fraser v Evans  1 QB 349 that the party complaining must be the person who is entitled to the confidence which was not W. In addition, the damage was held to be too remote.
More from 5RB
5RB is the pre-eminent set in the area for handling defamation, privacy, contempt and data protection matters. Interviewees praise the set for having great depth and quality of counsel, and note that it boasts many of the top barristers in the field. Get the lowdown here.
New 22nd Edition of Clerk & Lindsell on Torts, published by Sweet & Maxwell. Further info here.