Full case report

R v Secretary of State for Health ex parte Associated Newspapers & Others

Reference [2001] 1 WLR 292
Court Divisional Court

Judge Kennedy LJ & Jackson J

Date of Judgment 20 Jul 2001


Summary

Public Law – Judicial Review – Shipman Inquiry – Public or Private – Human Rights – Article 10 – Freedom to impart information – s.2 National Health Act 1977


Facts

A number of media entities and the families of some of Harold Shipmans victims brought judicial review proceedings to challenge the decision of the Secretary of State for Health that an independent inquiry under s.2 National Health Act 1977 would be held in private. When the Secretary of State announced the inquiry, he had already decided that the inquiry would be held in private but this was not communicated. The Secretary of State had failed to consult any of the families prior to making his decision. His reasons for holding the inquiry in private were (1) that it would be quicker; (2) that witnesses were more likely to be forthcoming and candid in private.


Issue

(1) Whether the applicants had a legitimate expectation that the inquiry would be held in public;
(2) Whether the decision to hold the inquiry in private was irrational.


Held

(1) The Secretary of State was not bound to consult before announcing the nature of an inquiry. However, in the instant case the Secretary of State had said that it was important to provide the relatives and friends with privacy. As this formed a basis of his decision, it was incumbent on him to find out what the relatives and friends really wanted. (2) There was a presumption that an inquiry would be held in public unless there were some persuasive reasons for taking some other course. The stated reasons for holding the inquiry in private – that the witnesses would speak more freely in private and that the inquiry would be quicker – were not of sufficient weight to render the decision within the reasonable range of responses open to him. In particular, the decision was an interference with the relatives’ rights under Article 10 to impart and receive information about the deaths of their relatives.The Secretary of State’s decision to hold the inquiry in private was therefore irrational


Comment

This was a ground breaking decision in relation to public inquiries. However, it was undermined by the subsequent decision of R (Persey) v Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs [2002] EWHC 371 (Admin); [2003] QB 794.


Instructing Solicitors

Swepstone Walsh for the Media Applicants


Links

Families of Shipman's victims go to high court for open inquiry - The Guardian