Full case report

Sharma v Singh & Associated Newspapers (No. 2)

Reference [2008] EWHC 683 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 13 Mar 2008


Summary

Anonymity of witnesses – Allegations of sexual harassment – CPR 39.2(4) – Libel trial


Facts

C, an Air India executive, brought a libel action (which he ultimately won) against the author and publishers of a front page article in the Evening Standard alleging that he had been a serial sex pest at Heathrow airport. The Ds relied in their plea of justification on the testimony of 6 complainants, 4 of whom they proposed to call as witnesses at the trial. In respect of the remaining 2, the Ds were proposing to adduce under the Civil Evidence Act 1995 letters purportedly signed by each of them in 2004, as their whereabouts were unknown.


Issue

Whether the identity of the 6 complainants should not be disclosed in public at the trial in order to protect their interests, following <A
href=”http://www.5rb.com/news/details.asp?newsid=352″ target=_parent>Ivereigh v Associated Newspapers


Held

Dismissing the application:

Anonymity applications by adult witnesses should not become the norm in libel actions, and insufficient reason was shown here to depart from the open justice principle. Although containing a sexual element, the pleaded allegations of sexual harassment were at the lower end of the scale of gravity, and did not involve explicit sexual language or intimate parts of the body. The potential for distress, embarrassment and intrusive press attention was faced by every witness in civil proceedings, and the fears of the witnesses in this case were not distinguishable from the norm. Since there was an issue as to whether the letters were forgeries, there should be as much openness as possible about the names of the two women who had purportedly signed the letters in 2004.


Comment

The crucial distinction between this case and that of Ivereigh is twofold. Firstly, in that case there had been a need to protect the privacy rights of children, and that could only be achieved by according anonymity to their mother. Secondly, there was medical evidence in Ivereigh about the harm that would be caused to the mother if her identity was disclosed.


Instructing Solicitors

Stewart Moore for the Claimant; Taylor Wessing LLP for the Defendants