Alphabet soup in the Supreme Court

By popular request, Scots Law News is pleased to draw attention to the opening passages of Lord Rodger's recent judgment in the Supreme Court case Guardian News and Media Ltd's Application [2010] UKSC 1:

"1. “Your first term docket reads like alphabet soup.” With these provocative words counsel for a number of newspapers and magazines highlighted the issue which confronts the Court in this application. In all the
cases down for hearing in the first month of the Supreme Court’s existence at least one of the parties was referred to by an initial or initials. Thanks to the relevant Practice Note, the same goes for the very last case heard by the House of Lords (BA (Nigeria) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2009] UKSC 7; [2009] 3 WLR 1253) and the very first judgment handed down by the Supreme Court (In re appeals by Governing Body of JFS [2009] UKSC 1; [2009] 1 WLR 2353). See Practice Note (Court of Appeal: Asylum and
Immigration Cases) [2006] 1 WLR 2461. Indeed, so deeply ingrained has the habit of anonymisation become that the judgment of the Court of Appeal in AM (Somalia) v Entry Clearance Officer [2009] EWCA Civ 634 was published under that name, and came on appeal to the Supreme Court under the same name, even though Maurice Kay LJ had begun his judgment by saying that anonymity was unnecessary. At the hearing of the appeal that assessment proved to be correct. See Mahad v Entry Clearance Officer [2009] UKSC 16; [2010] 1 WLR 48.

2. These are simply examples of what is now a widespread phenomenon. For instance, on a rough calculation, in 8 out of the 58 appeals decided by the House of Lords in 2007 at least one of the parties appeared under an initial; the same applied in 15 out of 74 cases in 2008. Admittedly, cases reaching the
House of Lords and the Supreme Court are not necessarily typical of those going through the court system as a whole, but the general impression is that the practice of referring to parties by initials has increased at all levels in recent years. Even assuming that the use of initials was justified in many cases, the present appeals show that an order (“anonymity order”) may be made, often by consent of both parties, without the court considering in any detail what is the basis or justification for it. This happens despite Sir Christopher Staughton’s warning, in Ex p P, The Times 31 March 1998, that “when both sides agreed
that information should be kept from the public, that was when the court had to be most vigilant.” Lord Woolf MR quoted the warning with approval in R v Legal Aid Board, Ex p Kaim Todner [1999] QB 966, 977D-E. The application challenging the anonymity orders in these appeals provides an opportunity for reviewing the position."

In the end the Supreme Court lifted the anonymity orders in the case before it, ruling that the public interest in disclosure was decisive in finding the appropriate balance between Articles 8 and 10 ECHR in cases of this kind.