Law Reform Commission of Western Australia
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Project 65(II) - Confidentiality of medical records and medical research

Project No. 65(II)

Commenced: 1987
Completed: 1990

The Health Department had become increasingly concerned that the developing law of confidentiality would unduly restrict or obstruct medical research in Western Australia. Unlike the legislation of the Commonwealt and some other Australian states there is no specific statutory provision in Western Australia regulating the use of medical records for research purposes.

Given the absence of statutory authority, it was feared that a hospital’s disclosure of medical records to a researcher, in a form that identified individual patients, was a breach of a legal duty of confidence. The breach would only be avoided if the patients had consented to the disclosure. Researchers claimed that in many cases it was impracticable to obtain such patient consent.

Terms of Reference

In 1987 the Commission was asked to review the law relating to the use of patients’ medical records for the purpose of medical research.

The reference was directed towards a specific area of privacy, under the general privacy reference (Project No. 65(I)), which was agreed between the Commission and the Attorney General in 1986.


The development of a Privacy Bill has stalled, primarily due to the perceived need for uniformity between Australian state jurisdictions. This issue has been considered at various times by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, which established its own working party on privacy.

Last updated: 31-Jan-2017

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