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Supreme Court landmark ruling on anonymity of mental health patients on release from life sentences

R (on the application of C) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Justice (Respondent) [2016] UKSC 2

The Supreme Court considered whether to grant anonymity to a mentally ill man, known as ‘C’. This judgment has wider significance because it sets out the relevant considerations for courts when deciding whether to grant anonymity balancing the open justice principle (article 10) and the interests of the individual (article 8).

Details

The Supreme Court considered the case of a mentally ill man known as ‘C’, a double murderer, who had been released from a life sentence by the parole board following years of extensive mental health treatment. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that C’s anonymity should be protected to ensure his reintegration into the community without which the progress he had made during his long years of treatment in hospital would be put in jeopardy.

This case involved consideration of whether there is a presumption of anonymity for patients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, and was concerned with the specific facts relating to C. The principles, however, are of wider relevance in criminal cases where anonymity is granted to children by imposing automatic1 and discretionary2 reporting restrictions

  • ‘The principle of open justice is one of the most precious in our law. It is there to reassure the public and the parties that our courts are indeed doing justice according to law. In fact, there are two aspects to this principle. The first is that justice should be done in open court, so that the people interested in the case, the wider public and the media can know what is going on. … The second is that the names of the people whose cases are being decided, and others involved in the hearing, should be public knowledge.’ (para 1)
  • ‘[I]n many, perhaps most cases, the important safeguards secured by a public hearing can be secured without the press publishing or the public knowing the identities of the people involved. The [media] interest protected by publishing names is rather different…’ (para 18)
  • ‘The public’s right to know has to be balanced against the potential harm, not only to this patient, but to all the others whose treatment could be affected by the risk of exposure.’ (para 36)
  • ‘[The applicant] is much more likely to be able to lead a successful life in the community if his identity was not generally known.’ (para 39)
  • ‘Putting all these factors into the balance, I conclude that an anonymity order is necessary in the interests of this particular patient… Without it there is a real risk that his long years of treatment will be put in jeopardy and his reintegration into the community …will not succeed.’ (para 40)

 

Commentary

Given the facts of this case, namely a convicted murderer who had committed ‘a horrendous crime which caused incalculable distress to the families of the victims’, and the unanimous view of the Supreme Court that anonymity must be protected to enable the applicant’s rehabilitation, it is hard to envisage any criminal case where a court would determine an application for reporting restrictions in favour of disclosing child defendant’s identity given the impact it will inevitably have on their rehabilitation and resettlement back into society.

Read the judgment & press summary

Read our Anonymity YJLC Step by Step Guide

Read the SCYJ YOTS guidance

 

  1. Youth court proceedings take place in private and there are automatic reporting restrictions under section 49 Children and Young Persons Act 1933  (back)
  2. In the adult magistrates’ court and Crown Court, the judge may impose reporting restrictions under section 45 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 to protect a child’s anonymity  (back)