Thousand hands of Avalokiteshvara

Why confidentiality?

On Thu, 10 June, 2021 - 14:00
ECA Safeguarding's picture
ECA Safeguarding

You may be wondering why the details about Safeguarding cases and cases of ethical misconduct in Triratna need to be kept so confidential. Why can’t everyone know?

Actually it’s not specifically to do with Safeguarding or misconduct. Data protection law in the UK and many other countries strictly protects the privacy of the individual and restricts the ways in which organisations may use or share information about individuals. You’ll notice this every time a website or an organisation asks your permission to hold your name and address and promises it will not share your information without your permission.

When it comes to cases of ethical misconduct (criminal or otherwise), information about a case is the property of those directly involved – those accused of/admitting to causing harm and those harmed or alleging harm.

Data protection law varies between jurisdictions, but the UK General Data Protection Regulation 2018 (UK GDPR) says that this information may only be shared further with those with a ‘reasonable’ need to know: ie those who need the information in order to discharge their duty of responsibility for addressing the matter and preventing further harm: those within an organisation and (where the matter is criminal) police and others administering criminal justice.

In Triratna’s case the only people who would be deemed to have a reasonable need of information about a case are, typically, Safeguarding officers, some College members, Order convenors, trustees – though which of these are involved will vary depending on the case and which charities are involved. In a case involving a Friend at a particular centre (for example) those who have a need to know may be just a very few local Order members, such as the charity’s own Safeguarding officer, Chair and Safeguarding trustee. Not even all the trustees of the charity would necessarily be considered to have a need to know the details.

At first sight it may seem that this law doesn’t apply to the Order because the Order does not exist in law. Legally speaking, it’s just a list of private individuals on a database. However, our Order is administered by, and operates in the world through, a great many charities and other organisations which do exist in law. Central among these are the UK charities associated with the Preceptors’ College and Order office (which employs the International Order convenors) and the European Chairs Assembly (ECA), which is also a UK charity, for whom the ECA Safeguarding team work.

This means that (for example) College members, Order convenors and the ECA Safeguarding team are prohibited by law from sharing any information about a case with the rest of the Order in general. So where, for example, a Order member is suspended or expelled, the UK GDPR would consider the Order in general has a reasonable need to be informed only that one of its members is no longer a member, temporarily or permanently. And Mitras and Friends in general have no need to be informed about this at all by Triratna organisations and therefore cannot be told, even if news reaches them informally via individuals. However Mitras and Friends at a particular centre might need this information where the OM was well known at that centre, for example.

The reason the law protects the individual’s privacy in such cases is that great harm and suffering can be caused by the sharing of private information. Complainants or victims of serious harm may be publicly shamed, blamed for what has happened to them, harmed physically or be traumatised simply by exposure. Those harming or accused of harm may also be at risk of serious harm themselves.

Furthermore, where a matter is being addressed by the police, the sharing of information may jeopardise police work and prejudice court proceedings, so the law requires that we avoid doing anything which could pervert the course of justice.

But what if one of the parties is sharing information themselves?
If one of the parties is sharing information themselves (for example discussing their case online) they may be deemed to have given up their right to privacy and it could be necessary and justifiable to share information relating to them. However, without the permission of the other party/ies to share information about the case, great care would have to be taken not to reveal anything which could lead to the other party/ies being identified. Given the obligation not to jeopardise/prejudice police and court work, it still might well be necessary not to share any information at all.

Criminal matters are always reported to the police
I hope it’s obvious that this is not just an excuse for concealment, given the policy of the ECA Safeguarding team that any matter brought to us which may be criminal is reported to the police, without exception. We are publicly accountable to the law and external authorities such as, in the UK, the Charity Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Charity Regulator. They are entitled to ask for the details of a case and how it was handled and should they or the police ask us for this information we will certainly comply.

ECA Safeguarding officer