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Full text of "Medical Jurisprudence And Toxicology"

18                                                MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE

tend directly or indirectly to criminate himself, but no such answer which
he shall he compelled to give shall subject him to any arrest or prosecution,
or be proved against him in any criminal proceeding, except a criminal pro-
ceeding for giving false evidence for such answer.

In a divorce case 1C "before Mr. Justice Horridge the question of professional secrecy
arose when the husband's lawyer called a physician who had treated his wife. The
physician asked to be relieved from giving evidence on the plea that the Ministry of
Health had passed a regulation that "all information obtained in regard to any person
treated shall be regarded as confidential. But the Judge said that the Ministry of Health
had no power affecting the jurisdiction of the court; physicians were subject to the orders
of the court and must disclose what they knew". The physician said he was placed
in a difficult position by this ruling. The judge replied, " I cannot see that you are
bound to observe the regulations not to disclose voluntary information you obtained;
but so far as giving information which you are bound to give in assisting the adminis-
tration of justice it is your duty to give it". The physician then gave the evidence.

In a matrimonial suit17 where the petitioner claimed a dissolution of the marriage
on account of the cruelty and adultery of her husband an interesting point arose when
the three doctors who had treated the husband for ^two well-known venereal diseases
claimed privilege urging that the relationship of docto>-and patient was confidential.
Mr. Justice Young said that the law on this point was clear. Section 126 of the Evidence
Act gave protection to a barrister, attorney, pleader or vakil with regard to communi-
cations made to him in the course of his employment as such by a client. There was
no protection afforded by the Evidence Act to a doctor as such. When a doctor was
called to give evidence he was in the same position as any other person not exempted
by the Act. It was his duty to assist the court in every way possible and to disclose
to the court all the information hi his possession relevant to the matter^ in_ issue. His
Lordship, therefore, had to disallow the plea of the doctors that they were enfitlecPttr
withhold their evidence in this case.

A doctor's protest against the disclosure of a patient's confidence was upheld in-~t-~
case heard at the Mayor's and City of London Court.18 Mr. A, a tuberculous patient,
under periodical supervision at a London tuberculosis dispensary, was employed as a
telephone operator by a City firm and underwent a sanatorium treatment in 1929. Four
years later, Mr. B, his deputy telephone operator, developed pulmonary tuberculosis and
sued the firm for compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act, claiming that
his disease was the result of using the telephone instrument used by Mr. A. The tuber-
culosis officer at the dispensary attended by Mr. A was summoned to go to the court
and to produce the records of the dispensary showing his patient's condition and Jteea&v
ment there. The officer made a protest both on the general ground that the evidence"
required of him was obtained by him in confidence as a medical practitioner, and on the
special ground of a statutory obligation to secrecy. Article 10 of the Public Health
(Tuberculosis) Regulations of 1930 directs that "every notification and every document
relating to a person notified under these regulations shall be regarded by the medical officer
of health and by every person who has access thereto as confidential". Under section
1 (3) of the Public Health Act, 1896, as the witness reminded the court, refusal to obey
the regulations would expose him to a penalty of 100. The Judge upheld the prptest,
and the tuberculosis officer was absolved from giving evidence.

16.   Jour. Amer. Meet. Assoc^ July 23, 1921, p. 298; Brit. Med. Jour,, 1921, Vol. H, p. 17;

17.    Leader, Oct. 27, 1932.

18.    Lancet, Oct. 13, 1934, p. 835.