TIMING OF APPLICATIONS FOR ANONYMITY: CLAIMANTS SHOULD ACT WELL BEFORE TRIAL

In  Zeromska-Smith v United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust [2019] EWHC 552 (QB) Mr Justice Martin Spencer refused the claimant’s application for anonymity.  He made important observations about when such an application should normally be made.

THE TIMING OF APPLICATIONS

After refusing the application the judge stated.

  1. Finally, I wish to say something about the timing of any application for anonymity in cases which are not approval hearings for protected parties or children. Here, the application was made at the start of the trial, without any notice having been given to The Press Association in advance. This put the court reporter in an awkward position, and did not allow for full consideration of the issues or properly prepared submissions on behalf of the Press. Mr Feeny, for the Defendant, understandably took a neutral stance, although, when I adjourned the application, he helpfully provided to the court some additional authorities, for which I was very grateful. But, in general, it seems to me that such an application should be made and heard in advance of the trial, and should be served on the Press Association. There are two reasons for this. First, and most obviously, it gives the Press Association a proper opportunity to make representations, whether orally at the application or in writing in advance. Secondly, the outcome of the application may inform any decision taken by a Claimant in relation to settlement. Thus, if a Claimant in a sensitive case such as the present knows that, if the matter goes to trial, her name will be published in the press, she may consider that to be an important factor in deciding whether or not to accept an offer of settlement – in some cases it could tip the balance. For these reasons, an application for anonymity should be made well in advance of the trial and Claimants (and their advisers) should not assume that the application will be entertained at the start of the trial (because of the disruption to the trial which may ensue, if the application needs to be adjourned to enable the Press Association time to prepare submissions), nor that it will be “nodded through” by the judge, where the Defendant takes a neutral stance and there is only a court reporter to represent the interests of the press.