Anonymity

Anonymity

Part 39 of the Civil Procedure Rules provides “the general rule is that a hearing is to be in public.” Anonymity can be applied for and under CPR Rule 39.2 (4) “the court may order that the identity of any party or witness must not be disclosed if it considers non-disclosure necessary in order to protect the interest of that party or witness.”

In the case of Justyna Zeromska-Smith v United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust [2019] EWHC 552 (QB) the claimant was seeking damages for psychiatric injury and applied for an anonymity order because the injuries were of a deeply personal and private nature.

On hearing the application the Court noted that a fundamental principle of common law is that justice is administered in public and judicial decisions are pronounced publicly. This open justice principle is both integral to protecting the rights of the parties and also essential for the maintenance of public confidence in the administration of justice. The principle was emphasised by the House of Lords in Scott v Scott [1913] where Lord Atkinson said “the hearing of a case in public maybe and often is, no doubt painful, humiliating or deterrent both to parties and to witnesses…. but all this is tolerated and endured, because it is felt that in public trial is to found, on the whole, the best security for the pure, impartial and efficient administration of justice, the best means for winning for it public confidence and respect.”

The revelation of the identity of the parties is an important principle of open justice and the principle is generally diminished where a newspaper is allowed to report the identity of only one of the parties.

Anonymity orders are sometimes sought in personal injury claims if for example the claim involves a child or a protected party; or the publication of highly personal information about a claimant’s medical condition involves a serious invasion of his or hers rights to privacy. Anonymity orders are more likely to be made for cases involving children and protective parties rather than cases involving adults of full capacity who bring their claims by choice and in respect of whom any publicity which arises in the reporting of the proceedings stems from that choice.

The court in the case of Ms Zeromska-Smith refused the application for anonymity even though the matters and issues involved in the case were of a deeply personal and private nature concerning her mental health and family relations.

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