The inquiry into alleged abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital unlawfully requested confidential medical records without first notifying patients, the High Court heard today.
Counsel for the family of one man treated at the facilities in Antrim claimed the failure to inform them in advance of the move breached privacy rights.
Ronan Lavery KC submitted: “Notice ought to to be given to somebody whose confidential notes and records are being sought.”
Muckamore Abbey, run by the Belfast Health Trust, provides care for adults with learning difficulties and mental health issues.
The hospital has been at the centre of a major police investigation into claims that vulnerable patients were subjected to ill-treatment.
An ongoing public inquiry chaired by Tom Kark KC is examining the allegations of abuse separately.
Earlier this year the tribunal issued the Trust with a patient document request (PDR) for the man’s notes and records.
Lawyers representing his mother claimed they were given no say in the process.
A judicial review challenge has been launched in a bid to have the PDR declared unlawful.
The request is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it was contended.
Mr Lavery stressed his client was not fundamentally opposed to any disclosure, but wanted to work with the inquiry and be part of the process.
He told the court that the case was about the procedural fairness in attempting the medical documents without the family’s knowledge, consent or involvement at any stage.
The barrister rejected any suggestion that imposing an obligation to provide notification could delay and restrict the work of the inquiry.
“None of that is correct,” the barrister submitted.
“There will of course be an extra administrative burden, but that’s what fairness requires.”
Adjourning proceedings, Mr Justice Scoffield confirmed he will hear further submissions later this month.
Outside court a solicitor representing the patient’s family, insisted that they should be able to make representations to the inquiry about its request before any notes are handed over.
Ciaran O’Hare of McIvor Farrell said: “This case may have significant ramifications for the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry and indeed all other inquiries where the disclosure of sensitive information is sought.”
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