New Judgment: R (C) v Secretary of State for Justice  UKSC 2
27 Wednesday Jan 2016
On appeal from:  EWCA Civ 1009
The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal against the refusal to maintain the anonymity order protecting the appellant.
The appellant, who had a history of severe mental health problems, had been previously convicted of murder, and was subject to a restriction order which meant that he could not be discharged without the consent of the Secretary of State. He wished to challenge the decision of the Secretary of State to refuse his application for conditional discharge, and had sought an anonymity order in relation to these judicial review proceedings.
While an anonymity order was judged to be necessary in this instance, the Supreme Court was clear that there was no presumption of anonymity and whether an order for anonymity was to be made depended on whether it was necessary in the interests of the patient.
Lady Hale gave the only substantive judgment. She stated that hearings should be held in public as a general rule, subject to established exceptions. She was of the view that most safeguards secured by a public hearing could also be achieved where the identity of those involved where withheld. It was, however, ultimately for the court to balance the interests at stake.
Lady Hale emphasised the need to distinguish ordinary civil proceedings from proceedings concerning the compulsory powers under the Mental Health Act 1983. There was a presumption of privacy and anonymity for the latter, and in other cases involving those with mental disorders or disabilities. The present case was analogous with proceedings in the tribunals concerning the transfer of prisoners. In these instances, privacy rules were a proper and proportionate departure from the principle of open justice, given the examination of confidential medical information. Judicial reviews of decisions as to the discharge of prisoners would similarly require consideration of confidential medical information.
Lady Hale recognised the public right to information about decisions concerning notorious criminals, but this needed to be balanced against the potential harm to the patient, should their identities be exposed. In this instance, the public interest in knowing how such cases were decided was protected by the holding of a public hearing. The withholding of the appellant’s identity did not alter this. The appellant was far more likely to lead a successful life in the community if the public were not aware of his identity. Therefore, on balance, the anonymity order was necessary in the interest of the appellant.
To watching the hearing please visit: Supreme Court website