The question of whether and to what extent local authorities can or should share information about individuals thought to pose a risk to children is often a very difficult one to answer in practice. Failure to disclose the information may expose the authority to claims that it has not acted in accordance with its duties to safeguard children’s interests. On the other hand, sharing the information may expose the authority to claims that it has acted in excess of its powers and has otherwise breached the individual’s right to privacy under Article 8 ECHR. In the recent case of H & L v X City Council and Y City Council [2010] EWHC 466 (Admin), the Administrative Court considered this question in a case involving the disclosure of information by a local authority about a severely disabled man (H) who been convicted of indecent assault on a child. In this case, the council had made a variety of disclosures to organisations with which H was involved. It had also adopted a policy of considering on a case by case basis whether it should make disclosure of information relating to H to organisations with which he became involved in the future. In addition, the local authority had a policy of disclosing information to H’s personal care assistants, purportedly to protect any children those carers may bring into contact with H.

In a judgment which recognised the very strong imperative in favour of protecting children’s interests, Judge Langan QC held that the policies of disclosure to organisations with which H was involved constituted a proportionate interference with H’s Article 8 right to privacy and was otherwise lawful. In reaching this conclusion, the judge took into account the fact that the disclosures were fairly guarded in nature; were not made in lurid terms and did not go beyond what was required for the purpose of making a measured communication. The judge similarly held that the policy of notifying other organisations with which H came into contact in future on a case-by-case basis was a reasonable, proportionate and otherwise lawful policy. However, the judge took issue with the authority’s policy of notifying H’s care assistants. He held that this was a disproportionate measure, particularly in view of the facts that: two of the three long-term carers had no children; there was a ‘no children at work’ provision in the relevant employment contracts and, further, the terms of the disclosures would raise suspicions in the minds of the carers which was more grave than H’s past conduct justified. In reaching his conclusions on the various policies adopted by the council, the judge plainly had in mind the recent important Supreme Court judgment in R(L) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2009] 3 WLR 1056, where the Supreme Court held that it was no longer right to assume that priority must be given to the need to protect the vulnerable over the right to respect for the private life of the individual. What this case perfectly illustrates is the highly fact-sensitive approach which needs to be adopted in any case where the local authority is contemplating sharing information for child protection purposes. Tim Pitt-Payne appeared on behalf of the local authority