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High Court rules that the right of a claimant to name her abusers prevails over her abusers’ right to private and family life

Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council [2016] EWHC 2864

The claimant applied to set aside an anonymity order granted at the start of a previous trial to protect the identities of witnesses accused of physically and sexually abusing her in foster care.

The facts were that the claimant had taken civil action for damages against the local authority as a result of the abuse she had been subjected to while in foster care.  While she was unsuccessful in the High Court and Court of Appeal, she has appealed to the Supreme Court.  Although the local authority was found not to be responsible, the judge found that it had been proved, on a balance of probabilities, that the claimant had suffered abuse by two of the witnesses.

The claimant challenged the anonymity order and the court found in her favour.  The principles were set out as follows:

a.   The court may only make an anonymity order if it is ‘necessary’ to protect a witness’ interests such as the right to private and family life;

b.   Necessary to decide whether identification would interfere with those rights and consequences should be serious.

c.    If there is interference, the judge should consider whether this is necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others – a balance must be struck.

d.   In striking the balance, there are three key points: 1. Justice should be open; 2. The more severe the consequences of interference, the more likely that anonymity should be ordered.  3. The greater the public interest in the issues being discussed openly, the more likely that anonymity should be refused.

In this case, the allegations had been proved against the witnesses and there was no concrete evidence that they would suffer consequences beyond damage to reputation.  The Court found that the claimant had a legitimate interest in being able to tell her story without restriction.

Read UK Human Rights blog here.

Disclosure, ECHR Art. 8