We can't comment on individual cases

I’ve come to the conclusion that when companies, schools, public bodies et al say something along the lines of “we can’t comment on individual cases”, it’s really just code for “we’ve screwed up, we’re embarrassed and we’ll hide behind faux confidentiality issues”.

Obviously there may be confidentiality issues that these organisations shouldn’t reveal but they often seem to use the phrase disingenuously.

Very often what’s actually being asked of them is to justify a general stance that only happens to have been raised via an individual case. Nobody is asking for national insurance numbers, names, addresses. bank account details or any specifics about the case in question, they just want to know how the organisation’s rules and regulations are applied.

Where I’m coming from with this is an article I read on the BBC about a school that refused to allow two girls aged 8 and 10 to take five days off to be with their mother as she underwent a potentially life-threatening heart operation.

When asked for its opinion on matters, the school initially said “it could not comment on individual cases”.

To be fair, the school did eventually comment further when it said:

We give careful consideration to each request and review on an ongoing basis.

Even though we work in line with government guidelines which make it clear that absence can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, we speak with the families concerned each time to make sure that the reasons are totally understood so that every decision is appropriate.

Which it probably only said under the pressure of persistent journalists, didn’t explain a great deal and leaves you to wonder what qualifies as ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the school’s eyes if not a potentially life-threatening heart operation.

It’s ironic when we see schools shutting for a week and enforcing mass ‘absences’ when there are two flakes of snow within 30 miles. Presumably the weather is an ‘exceptional circumstance’ even though schools undergo this fiasco somewhere in the UK at least every other winter.

But this isn’t the only place I’ve seen the “can’t comment on individual cases” phrase used. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not the only place I’ve seen it used this week.

I don’t like the use of “can’t” in the phrase either. The only way they “can’t comment” would be if they’d had a spontaneous attack of mutism. What they really mean is that they “don’t” or “won’t” comment.

Yes, of course that’s pedantry but it makes the phrase more accurate.

But my point is that the phrase is often used as something to hide behind rather than out of any genuine concern for confidentiality, and that irritates me.

Sorry, that’s my rant for the day. I feel much better for getting it out of my system.