Children and protected parties in medical negligence and personal injury cases should not be publicly named unless anonymity is either unnecessary or inappropriate, the Court of Appeal ruled today.

Giving judgment in JX MX v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust [2013] EWHC 3956 the court reversed the current default position, under which claimants seeking anonymity must formally apply for it. 

The decision relates to approval hearings for damages awarded to children or people lacking mental capacity. These account for some of the highest value awards made by courts to individuals, yet are held in open court, creating the risk of subsequent harassment. 

Until today’s judgment, claimants had to apply formally for anonymity and provide the Press Association news agency with a copy of any submissions. Judges would require the claimant to provide good reasons as to why they should not be named. 

However in JX MX the Court of Appeal found that there was ‘force in the argument that in the pursuit of open justice the court should be more willing to recognise a need to protect the interests of claimants who are children and protected parties, including their right and that of their families to respect for their privacy’.

The public interest ‘may usually be served without the need for disclosure of the claimant’s identity’, the court ruled. 

Mark Bowman, medical negligence and personal injury partner at European firm Fieldfisher, which represented JX MX at the appeal on a pro bono basis, described the ruling as ‘a landmark decision’. He said the effect would be to put children and protected parties on an equal footing with claimants who are capable of consenting to confidential settlements out of court. 

Fieldfisher said that anonymity will now be afforded to claimants as a matter of routine practice unless for some reason the court is satisfied it is not necessary or inappropriate to do so. Such circumstances appear to be very few and far between and the burden is now placed on the press to provide reasons why anonymity should not be granted.

'It is fantastic to know that as a result of our appeal that not only my client but claimants all over the country will now be able to pursue medical negligence or personal injury claims without the fear or worry that at the end of their claim, their name and address will be plastered all over the internet for all and sundry to see,’ Bowman added.

‘It is only right that the public should know that a defendant has had to pay out substantial compensation to an injured claimant, but there is no public interest in knowing who the claimant is or where he or she lives.’