A recent case has undermined an important pitfall when seeking anonymity for vulnerable litigants.
C, a patient, was investigating a potential claim against a local authority and adoption charity in respect of child abuse she had suffered at the hands of her adoptive brother and sister. It is difficult to imagine a more sensitive case or a more vulnerable claimant.
C’s solicitors applied for pre-action disclosure. They applied for an anonymity order at the same time, which the judge granted. This included a term that third parties should only be able to examine the court file on notice to and with the permission of the parties.
The parties reached a settlement and C applied to the court to approve the settlement. All parties were very concerned when an article then appeared in the local newspaper about the case and giving details of the settlement. The article made clear that the journalist had seen the court papers. No party had been notified in advance and all parties insisted they had not “leaked” the material.
The Master expressed outrage that the anonymity order had seemingly been breached so flagrantly. However, on close examination of the anonymity order it only applied to the pre-action disclosure application and not to the proceedings for approval of the settlement. Each application was a separate set of proceedings with a separate claim number. The court kept the files separately. The Master explained to the parties that files subject to anonymity orders were clearly marked as such in the court office: this would be the case for the file relating to the pre-action disclosure application but not to the application for approval of the compromise.
The lesson for claimants is clear: you cannot rely on anonymity orders made in pre-action proceedings continuing to apply to subsequent proceedings. If there is any doubt, then apply for a further anonymity order in the subsequent proceedings too.