House of Lords Leukaemia Judgement Welcomed

Kevin Dunion, Scottish Information Commissioner, has welcomed the House of Lords ruling on the appeal by the Common Services Agency against a Court of Session judgement in favour of his decision in the case of Michael Collie and the CSA.

The decision concerned a request in 2005 by a Green Party researcher for data showing the incidence of childhood leukaemia at ward level in Dumfries and Galloway. The Commissioner ordered release of this statistical data in “Barnardised” form: a method for disguising statistical information to prevent identification. The Court of Session upheld the Commissioner’s decision on appeal, after which the CSA took their case to the House of Lords.

The Appellate Committee (Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Baroness Hale of Richmond and Lord Mance ) decided to allow the appeal, and have remitted the decision back to the Commissioner, to establish whether or not the statistical information can be released without the risk of identifying individuals.

Mr. Dunion commented: “I am pleased that the Lords have upheld my view that the Common Services Agency does hold the information in dispute and I am entitled to require authorities to anonymise personal data so that it can be released. Clearly, developments since the issue of the original decision mean that I need to address again what statistical information can be disclosed in this case whilst protecting the privacy of individual patients. I am looking forward to working with the Common Services Agency to establish what information can be released in light of the House of Lords decision.”

According to Wikipedia, Barnardisation is a method of disclosure control for tables of counts that involves randomly adding or subtracting 1 from some cells in the table. It is named after Professor George Alfred Barnard (1915-2002), a professor of mathematics at the University of Essex.

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