University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v Miss G



Judge: Peter Jackson J

Citation: [2016] EWCOP 28

Summary

Miss G was in a permanently vegetative state as a result of a heart attack that caused irreversible hypoxic brain injury. She was being kept alive by means of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH). The parties agreed that it was not in Miss G’s best interests for CANH to be continued and the court made declarations accordingly.

A reporting restrictions order (RRO) had been made which applied for one month after Miss G’s death. The Trust, supported by Miss G’s family, applied for the reporting restrictions order to be extended indefinitely. The Trust argued that there was no public interest in Miss G or her family being named at any stage. Miss G’s family members were private people who were unhappy at the thought of any publicity, particularly at such a difficult time. The Official Solicitor (on behalf of Miss G) and the Press Association opposed the application.

The court concluded that the existing RRO would not be varied and would cease one month after Miss G’s death and would not be varied. The court’s reasons were summed up as follows:

The names of those who are born and those who die are rightly a matter of public record. The fact that someone has died is always a matter of proper public interest and the ability to record it is a normal incident or society. It is probable that in this case and others like it there will be a coroner’s inquest, held in public. These features will normally be present in cases involving the withdrawal of treatment and in such cases those seeking report restrictions, particularly open-ended ones, will in practice have to show that privacy considerations outweigh them. I cannot therefore agree with the Trust’s submission that there is no legitimate public interest in Miss G’s identity being known.

Further, the court distinguished the earlier case of Re V [2016] EWCOP 20 (reported in our May 2016 newsletter), in which the RRO was extended indefinitely, by emphasizing the fact-specific nature of the analysis.  Where an RRO is made in a case where death is foreseeable, the court should consider whether the appropriate duration is to be until death, until a fixed date after death or until further order.

Comment

It is unclear quite where the balance is to be struck between the public interest of identifying the individual and protecting the private interests of the individual’s family. The court accepted that the circumstances were undoubtedly “distressing” to family members but there was “no evidence that the identification of Miss G would harm family members or be a significant infringement of their privacy”. One of the factors which militated against extending the RRO, in contrast to the case of Re V, was that there was unlikely to be any significant reporting of the personal details of this case, still less intrusive reporting. The lifting of the RRO therefore depended, in large part, on the understanding that media reporting would be sensitive and responsible as opposed to the reporting of Re V which was described as “prurient rather than in the public interest”.

CategoryMedia - Court reporting Date

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