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Prof's privacy appeal denied by Euro court
Christopher Gillberg and wife Carina at Gothenburg district court, February 2002

Prof's privacy appeal denied by Euro court

Published: 02 Nov 2010 15:39 GMT+01:00
Updated: 02 Nov 2010 15:39 GMT+01:00

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a Swedish court decision to fine a former Swedish university department head for barring access to and later destroying research material.

However, it has left the door open to the possibility of Professor Christopher Gillberg requesting a new trial in a new chamber with 17 judges.

Gillberg was initially handed a suspended sentenced and fined 37,500 kronor ($5,650) in 2005 for "misuse of office" from a series of incidents from 2002 to 2004.

After the judgment was upheld by a court of appeal and leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused on April 25th, 2006, Gillberg turned to the European Court of Human Rights.

"It means in theory that Gillberg has an opportunity to go to court and say that, 'This is fundamentally important and the majority have come to the conclusion that it is totally wrong, so I want a new trial by the court in full meeting,'" Sweden's Elisabet Fura, one of the seven judges who considered Gill's notification, told news agency TT.

Gillberg is a well known professor and the former head of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Gothenburg. In his role, he carried out research on hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorders.

According to the case, in 2002, a paediatrician, "K," and a sociologist, "E," who were critical of Gillberg's research requested access to the background material, which occupied 22 metres of shelf space. Their request was refused several times by the school on the grounds of secrecy.

From 1977 to 1992, Gillberg conducted research on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and deficits in attention, motor control and perception (DAMP). Gillberg had promised the patients and their parents absolute confidentiality.

In April 2003, the school initially limited the use and transmission of the material. These restrictions were lifted by the Administrative Court of Appeal four months later and leave to appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court was denied.

Subsequently, Gillberg asked the relevant patients and their parents if they would be prepared to have the data released and all but one family refused.

The university dean requested Gillberg transport the material to another specified university facility in August 2003, where it was agreed that K and E could have access. Gillberg refused and the meeting was cancelled.

The dean informed K and E that he could not help them any further in September 2003, but would bring Gillberg before the Public Disciplinary Board (Statens ansvarsnämnd) on the grounds of disobedience.

The university board discussed the refusal to surrender the research material and subsequently decided to refuse access to K and give restricted access to E. The Administrative Court of Appeal nullified these decisions on May 4th, 2004.

Five days later, the research material was destroyed, apparently by three of Gillberg's employees.

In addition to Gillberg, Gothenburg district court fined the dean 32,000 kronor on June 27th, 2005.

The European court's seven judges found that only two of the European Convention on Human Rights' articles provided a basis for taking up the case. The court disagreed regarding the assessment of Article 8, under which two of thejudges determined that Sweden had violated the right to freedom of expression.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

18:23 November 2, 2010 by Just_Kidding
I admire him for going into trouble to defend weak patients rather than siding with the powerful administration.
18:42 November 2, 2010 by eZee.se
The prof has my vote (and respect) for his morals and living by his word.
21:07 November 2, 2010 by Swedesmith
Sounds like a classic power struggle. My vote goes to the prof who was protecting the parents.
00:23 November 3, 2010 by Tanskalainen
This prof has integrity, I would be proud to have my daughter study under him.
04:25 November 3, 2010 by ehwhat?
"Gillberg had promised the patients and their parents absolute confidentiality." This is a contract given and accepted. It is based on time honoured ethical considerations.It is inviolable.

The Professor was absolutely correct to deny access. In similar circumstances I would do the exact same thing. In fact, I would dismiss any of my staff who acquiesced for their violation of ethics and breach of patient privacy. The Dean should be sacked for failure to properly support the Professor. I am surprised that his colleagues have not taken to the streets in what is a clear attack on the ethical core.

It is a very sad day indeed when the jobsworth rule the roost.
09:04 November 3, 2010 by engagebrain
The issue is not as clearcut as it appears.

One reason for requesting access to original data is to allow for independent assessment of a researchers conclusions and methods -mistakes/misinterpretation are always possible and, in the worst case, there is fraud.

Perhaps at the start of study consideration should have been given to following the subjects but without recording their identities - so that access by third parties to the notes was possible but could be achieved without revealing the identities of the patients.
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