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Student fatalities

Disclosure date: 23 May 2012

Reference: FOI2012/030

Request

1) How many students (undergraduate and postgraduate) died while studying at the university in each of the academic years 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-2?

2) Please give the names, nationalities, dates of birth and course data of these students.

3) Please give the cause of death, if recorded.

Response

1) One in each of the years 2007-08, 2009-10 and 2011-12.

2) The School believes that by disclosing further details of the deceased, it would breach their confidentiality, which case law has established continues after death. The School considers that any further detail is exempt under section 41(1) of the Freedom of Information Act. This exemption protects information provided in confidence.

Firstly, the name, nationality, date of birth and at least some of the course data of each student was provided by that student on application, and during the course of their registration with the School. This satisfies the condition at s.41(1)(a) of the Act.

Secondly, the disclosure of this information, in the School’s view, would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by another person, satisfying the second condition at s.41(1)(b) of the Act. In common law, the accepted definition of an actionable breach of confidence is that set out by Megarry J. in Coco v A N Clark (Engineers) Limited [1968] FSR 415, which established a three prong test:

  • the information itself must have “the necessary quality of confidence about it”;
  • the information must have been imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence;
  • there must be an unauthorised use of the information to the detriment of the party communicating it” (other judgments suggest that it may not be necessary to prove detriment beyond the obvious one of the breach of confidentiality itself).


The Human Rights Act 1998, having imported the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, requires any public authority considering issues affecting individuals to be considered in the light of the convention’s articles. In this case, Article 8, which guarantees a right of privacy to individuals, is relevant.

In the School’s view, the information requested does have the “necessary quality of confidence” about it. This level of information about students at SOAS is not routinely made public by the School or others, whether students are alive or have died.

It was information collected from the individuals for the purpose of studying at SOAS. At the time, they will have been told that this information would only be used for specific purposes, in line with the Data Protection Act 1998. If anyone had requested this information from the School whilst the individuals were alive, it would certainly have been refused on the grounds that to do so would contravene the first Data Protection principle. Whilst the exemptions at section 40 and section 41 are not directly interchangeable, the fact that students would not expect their data to be disclosed whilst in life, suggests that they would have a reasonable expectation that their personal data would be kept confidential on their death.

Finally, it is certainly possible that disclosure of these details could cause further anguish to the families of the deceased, and the School believes that they would be in a position to take action against the School in these circumstances.

For these reasons, and bearing in mind Article 8, the School has concluded that this information cannot be disclosed.

3) This information is not held.