In a Court of Protection case, decided in the latter part of 2019, Dahlia Griffith was sentenced to a period of imprisonment for falsifying a court order. She had obtained the confidential medical records of her relative, P, a 50-year-old woman who had resided at a specialist hospital on a long-term ward but who had been admitted to various hospitals, including Barts Health NHS Trust. P has a diagnosis of a permanent disorder of consciousness.
Within Court of Protection proceedings, Ms Griffiths had made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain orders providing for the disclosure of P’s medical records held by Barts and on each occasion her application had been refused by the court. She therefore forged a court order and sent it to Barts with a request for full disclosure of P’s confidential medical records despite the court refusing to direct this. The purported order bore no court seal and contained none of the recitals that characterised other third party disclosure orders made by the court. Barts acted in good faith on the purported order and disclosed P's medical records to Sinclairslaw (instructed at that stage by Dahlia Griffith). Further orders were then made by Mr Justice Cohen enabling the Official Solicitor and the solicitors retained by her, Mackintosh Law, to obtain P's records from Barts. When Mackintosh Law made the request to Barts pursuant to the order of Mr Justice Cohen, Barts informed Mackintosh Law that it had already received a request for P's medical records from Ms Griffith.
Ms Griffith’s action constituted a “very serious interference with the due administration of justice”.
The court concluded that Ms Griffith was in contempt and sentenced her to an immediate term of imprisonment of 12 months – satisfied that the threshold for custody had been “plainly crossed” in this case. The court made it clear that but for the fact that Ms Griffith had not previously experienced prison, and the current impact on the nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, it would have imposed on her an immediate sentence of imprisonment of 18 months for forging the court order with the intention of interfering with the due administration of justice.
This case serves as a reminder to health and care organisations to proceed with caution when processing requests for disclosure of medical records. If in doubt, do check with the court.