Richard Spearman QC, Vikram Sachdeva QC and Victoria Butler-Cole win major case concerning anonymity orders and transparency in the Court of Protection

Richard Spearman QC, Vikram Sachdeva QC and Victoria Butler-Cole win major case concerning anonymity orders and transparency in the Court of Protection

CategoryNews Author Richard Spearman KC, Vikram Sachdeva KC, Victoria Butler-Cole KC Date

Richard, Vikram and Victoria acted for V, the daughter of a protected party (“C”), who sought an order extending indefinitely an interim reporting restrictions order (“RRO”) which prohibited C from being named or identified while she was alive as the subject of proceedings in the Court of Protection which had been brought by King’s College NHS Foundation Trust (“the Trust”).

The RRO was made initially by Moor J on 9 November 2015 and, following C’s death on 28 November 2015, was extended on 2 December 2015 by Theis J until 9 December 2015. At the hearing of V’s application on 9 December 2015 it was opposed by media organisations, which contended that the RRO should not be continued, so that the identity of C, and thus (in the events which had happened – see further below) the identities of V and other members of C’s family including V’s adult sister (“G”) and teenage sister (“A”) would be made public. The Trust and the Official Solicitor adopted a neutral stance.

After the hearing on 9 December 2015, the media organisations changed their stance and accepted that the RRO should be continued, but they nevertheless contended (a) that the RRO should be expressed to expire when A reached the age of 18 unless A (or others) applied to extend it beyond that date and (b) that the Court should refrain from giving general guidance in this case. V argued to the contrary, and, further, that the Court should make an order which prevented the coroner’s court conducting an inquest into C’s death from making her identity public. Charles J handed down judgment on 24 April 2016 upholding all of V’s contentions, continuing the RRO until further order, and setting out general guidance on the approach that the Court of Protection ought to take to the granting of RROs and anonymity orders.

C died aged 50 on 28 November 2015, having been found by MacDonald J at a hearing on 13 November 2015 to have capacity to decide whether to refuse life-saving medical treatment for kidney failure. V was made aware that the Trust was applying to the court, and instructed solicitors accordingly, and she and G provided important evidence about C at the hearing. On 30 November 2015, MacDonald J handed down a judgment which contained a detailed account of C’s life, her suicide attempt that resulted in kidney disease, and her decision to refuse treatment. This included a large amount of information relating to the private lives of C, V and other family members, in respect of which (as V submitted) they would in the ordinary way clearly have had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Media interest in the case intensified significantly after this judgment was handed down, and it featured on the front pages of numerous newspapers and was discussed on Radio 4’s Today programme. The publications included criticism of the evidence of C’s family, and its acceptance by the court. In addition, V and other members of C’s family were subjected to media attention of a type which they argued to be intrusive, insensitive and unacceptable. Among other things, family photographs on Facebook and Instagram were obtained and published, and V argued that by these and other means (and in breach of the terms of the interim RRO which was in place at the time) the identities of C and other members of C’s family would have been made known to at least some readers.

To read the full judgment, please click here.

For press links, please see:

The Telegraph – 25.4.2016

Daily Mail – 25.4.2016

The Guardian – 25.4.2016

BBC News – 25.4.2016

Huffington Post – 25.4.2016

Evening Express – 25.4.2016

For earlier press links, please see:

BBC News – 3.12.2015

The Telegraph – 3.12.2015

Daily Mail – 3.12.2015

The Guardian – 2.12.2015

Evening Standard – 1.12.2015



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