The Ministry of Justice has been ordered to improve its systems after details of parties in an adoption process were leaked to the birth father.
The data breach happened despite the court judge directing that the father be excluded from proceedings as he posed a risk to the family concerned.
A decision notice from the information commissioner found the mistake was due to a combination of unauthorised local processes and a failure to follow national practice requirements.
The MoJ was given three months to implement multiple changes to its approach to data protection, notably a review of all court processes to check for any other regional deviations from national practice.
The decision notice outlined that the cover sheet had been removed from the front of the adoption file in a breach of protocol. Staff members at the unnamed court with responsibility for checking the file prior to disclosure had then failed to check the contents.
Usually in adoption cases the parties are removed from the electronic court system, but in this case the judge had not issued such an instruction and there was no set procedure for court communications to be recorded.
A note on the restriction of information sharing had been placed in the electronic filing system, but at the time of the incident the system could hold only one note at a time and had subsequently been overwritten.
The Information Commissioner's Office noted that the court had amended its local process to bring it in line with national practice. The cover sheet is no longer removed and the electronic filing system can hold more than one note at a time.
The regulator issued a reprimand but listed a set of requirements to be completed by 7 December. These include a review of national practice to check levels of security of personal information, spot checks of case files to ensure ongoing compliance and improved training in data protection.
The decision notice did not state the consequences of the data breach or whether the father attempted to use the information he had been supplied.
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