In the field of ethics, confidentiality is a very fundamental principle. Basically, it concerns with the privacy of information shared between two or more parties. For example, a patient may disclose highly confidential information to a health specialist. In such a case, the doctor or nurse is morally expected to keep private the information shared and not disclose it to anybody else apart from the patient. Another important example of confidentiality is observed where a convicted criminal confides vital information about a certain incident with his/her lawyer. In such instances, the latter is expected to keep the details of the case private and refrain from sharing it with people as it may lead to breaches or sabotage an individual. Various governments set laws that govern the concept of confidentiality to enhance professionalism in fields such as law and medicine. The rules clearly stipulate actions that need to be taken in case any of the parties breach the confidentiality clause. For example, America, United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia have numerous similarities on the provisions and understanding of the concept. Nonetheless, few differences are apparent when handling cases regarding breaching of the confidentiality concept especially in the field of law.
Confidentiality is a broad concept that has many definitions that are determined by the country of application. However, the conventional meaning states confidentiality points that it is a set of rules that guide both verbal and written agreements between parties with the aim of ensuring that none of them discloses the information with a third party (Haniffa & Hudaib, 2009). Such information includes clients’ private confessions regarding a certain incident. That may be stored in the form of written, computerized, audio, or visually recorded that may gain access and sabotage the proceedings of a certain case. Evidently, in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia, confidentiality is usually protected by certain professional laws and codes that are stipulated in the countries’ constitutions. For example, health personnel are obliged by legal provisions to protect the confidentiality of patient information as required under the European Convention and the common law (Mayer, 2012). In this, stringent legal sanctions are apparent in case the professionals breach the patient’s confidence.
In the U.S., U.K., and Saudi Arabia the constitutions of each clearly explain that even though confidentiality is fundamental, the principle is not absolute. As such, some circumstances require health professionals to legally and ethically qualify the concept of confidentiality raises numerous concerns about the well-being of a patient. In the same, the law requires them to breach the law while in the process they protect others from harm, which may arise in case they fail to disclose the information (Wiles, Crow, Heath & Charles, 2008). However, the same provision requires the healthcare professionals to request the patients for permission to share private information with either the relatives or other medics. In this regard, the same law requires the health professionals exchange information if the patient is not in a position to authorize the sharing of information. Nonetheless, the disclosure must only be extended with the sole intention that it will aid in decision making concerning the patient’s care (Quantin, Bouzelat, Allaert, Benhamiche, Faivre & Dusserre, 2014).
Apart from that, the same constitutional provides for various circumstances under which health care providers may legally bound to breach the act of confidentiality. First and foremost, one may violate the act in order to avoid serious risks of considerable harm majorly to others in the same setup (Merluzzi & Brischetto, 2013). In such case, the decision to disclose vital patient information should be made progressively and carefully and in due consideration of the parties locked in the situation. As such, disclosure is only necessary for instances aimed at avoiding imminent harm to those nearby. Additionally, in the three countries, the duty of confidentiality substantially extends beyond death (Beech, 2010). According to specific legislations, the wish of the deceased’s is significantly considered.
Confidentiality in Law in the United States, UK, and Saudi Arabia
Markedly, the concept of confidentiality is greatly influential in the field of law. Notably, the lawyer-client privacy is substantial to guarantee the safety and security of the convicted person. The law advocates that the lawyer must always work towards ensuring that all the information provided by a client is subject to the highest levels of confidentiality. The principle is clearly spelled out in the constitutions of all the three countries’ legal ethics rules in each of their jurisdictions (Al-Fahad, 2009). The law states that the client-lawyer relationship is direct by the virtue that in the absence of the former’s consent, the latter cannot and must never any information relating to a matter that he/she is representing. This affirmation contributes to the trust that is fundamental toward ensuring the client-lawyer relationship is highly upheld. In this regard, any form of violation of the law leads to immediate disciplinary in the three countries.
On the contrary, within the legal field, there is a major provision concerning attorney-client confidentiality. In the United States, it is typically referred to as the testimonial privilege, which is a crucial concept in law. It is mostly common in the common law or statutes of major countries in the world. In the recent times, there has arisen an interesting trend in confidentiality. In this case, the work-product protection springs from numerous court decisions that have been construing the formal discovery procedures that are preserved in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In this clause, the notes, observations, research, and thoughts belonging to a lawyer are legally protected from the discovery processes during court proceedings. This further enhances the concept of confidentiality between the three countries (Quantin et al., 2014).
The ethical duty of client-lawyer confidentiality in the United States, United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia is similar as it is quite extensive concerning the scope of the information being protected. It is well versed in that it not only applies to matter that is communicated in private by the client but also all information relating to the entire court representation regardless of the source. The concept is applied in almost all levels and circumstances (Haniffa & Hudaib, 2009). However, in some exceptional cases, a lawyer may be required to testify about the client’s communication as stipulated under the compulsory of law. In the same way, a lawyer may be required by law to reveal crucial information about the client. This scenario is mostly apparent in Saudi Arabia where in the event a client refuses to testify, his/her lawyer is required to make the presentation according to what the convicted person had revealed concerning the case. Apart from that, legal materials that are not shielded by the lawyer work-product doctrine at times are still encompassed under the ethical duty of confidentiality. Notably, such a clause is not tantamount to breach of the law (Lothen, Howard, Hamburger, Worrell & Boekeloo, 2013).
In the three countries, confidential information is supposed to remain as such for the entire period of the presentation and after that. According to Mayer (2012), that applies even in the event the client dies. Another fundamental provision of ethically maintaining confidentiality demands that information may and should never be used to the detriment of the client. Rather, it should only be used to advance the interests of the client. Interestingly, the confidentiality clause in the three countries requires that even the information gained after the case have been decided and closed must be kept confidential. However, another interesting twist in the concept shows that the information immediately loses the protection of the lawyer after it becomes generally known (Mayer, 2012).
Additionally, a client can give informed consent to his/her lawyer with the aim of revealing confidential information that is protected by the privilege. In this regard, the provisions of the rule vary from country to country (Merluzzi & Brischetto, 2013). At the same time, it reflects different weightings on the balancing process between the several societal goals that are involved in the entire process. For example, Saudi Arabia makes specific exceptions in its constitution to allow disclosure that substantially prevents death and possible body harm. Apart from that, the ethics rules in the United States and the United Kingdom permits, and some sensitive cases require a lawyer to reveal a client’s positive information in order to prevent possible consequences of a fraud or a crime that spoils individual property or the interests of another person (Beech, 2010).
Finally, other exceptions to the confidentiality requirement include legally authorized disclosures either impliedly authorized by a certain client with the aim of seeking legal ethics. It also entails the lawyer’s disclosure in self-defense against a claim by a possible client. Recent laws in the United Kingdom appear to be curtailing the confidentiality requirement in some professionals such as lawyers at the expense of the country. For example, the bankers and accountants are required to report to the authorities any suspicious activities such as fraudulent accounting. Additionally, they have an obligation to report any use of tax saving schemes if they are not known to the tax collecting agencies (Haniffa & Hudaib, 2009). Similarly, lawyers are expected by the U.K.’s government to disclose any information of a client that can relate him/her with aberrant activities such as terrorism or drug trafficking.
Consequences of Breaching Confidentiality
The penalties for breaching the confidentiality law in the three countries are similar. First and foremost, in case there is an employment contract, breaching of the privacy clause leads to immediate termination. For example, if a lawyer is hired to represent a certain organization and then discloses vital information, the contract can be terminated without prior notice (Al-Fahad, 2009). The law provides for the employer to fire an individual in case of contract breach. Secondly, the client can sue the lawyer for disclosing private information for whatever reason in the three countries. If the plaintiff succeeds during the trial, the lawyer can compensate for damages in terms of monetary rewards. Interestingly, if the client discloses vital information concerning the proceedings of a case, the lawyer can file for breach of confidentiality and get financial damage compensations from the client. Fourth, a client can sue the lawyer for breach of confidentiality charges which may result in some extreme cases (Mayer, 2012). Finally, breach of confidentiality can tarnish an individual’s professional reputation. Markedly, in the case where a lawyer may breach the confidentiality of the client, his/her image may be permanently tainted which directly and adversely sabotages the future endeavors.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia has more strict rules when it comes to the consequences of breaching the confidentiality concept. Interestingly, despite the country having a democratic form of governance, cultural rules have numerous impacts and influence the form of governmental operations. The country’s legal field adopts a non-tolerant strategy on confidentiality and breaching of the same. In this regard, when a lawyer discloses a client’s vital information, the latter is allowed by the religious and cultural laws to undertake public execution on the professional. In this regard, when this happens, the client is allowed to mobilize other people and stone the individual to death (Quantin et al., 2014). However, before arriving at the decision that an individual has violated the confidentiality rule, a special meeting comprised of the community leaders is convened to determine the case. When one is proven guilty of the offense, death is usually an inevitable consequence.
On the contrary, the United States and the United Kingdom tend to approach the aspect in a more formal and humane way compared to Saudi Arabia (Mayer, 2012). They emphasize on the aspect punishing the offenders, imposing fines, and terminating the employment contracts of those who breach confidentiality. It is interesting to note that the United Kingdom allows violating the act without the consent of the client. However, the United States does not provide for that concept as its provisions are deeply rooted in the country’s First Amendment which stipulates that the rights of an individual must always be protected at all costs regardless of the state’s interests (Beech, 2010).
Confidentiality is a crucial concept in ethics. It requires that information shared between two parties in seclusion should remain private no matter the underlying conditions. In the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, the understanding of the law is universal. All of them define it as a set of rules that guide the written and verbal agreements between several parties. It is greatly influential in the field of law as it directly determines the practices of lawyers and their clients. Furthermore, it clearly spells the relationships between the two. Confidentiality is universal in the three countries although Saudi Arabia takes a slight deviation from the conventional way. Concerning the consequences of breaching, Saudi Arabia adopts a different strategy from the other countries as it punishes the violators through public execution.
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Haniffa, R., & Hudaib, M. (2009). Locating audit expectations gap within a cultural context: The case of Saudi Arabia. Journal of International Accounting, Auditing and Taxation, 16(2), 179 206.
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Merluzzi, T. V., & Brischetto, C. S. (2013). Breach of confidentiality and perceived trustworthiness of counselors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30(2), 245.
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Wiles, R., Crow, G., Heath, S., & Charles, V. (2008). The management of confidentiality and anonymity in social research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 11(5), 417 428.
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