X (formerly known as Mary Bell) & Y v News Group Newspapers Ltd & Ors

Reference: [2003] EWHC 1101 (QB); [2003] FSR 850; [2003] EMLR 850

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Butler-Sloss P

Date of judgment: 21 May 2003

Summary: Anonymity Order - Lifetime Injunction to restrain identification - Breach of Confidence - Human Rights Act 1998 - Article 2 - Article 8 - Article 10 - whether the applicants' exceptional circumstances warranted the grant of lifetime protection contra mundum

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Appearances: Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Southern Stewart Walker for X and Y; Farrer & Co for the Defendants; Treasury Solicitor for H M Attorney General

Facts

In 1968, when the first Applicant ‘X’ (then Mary Bell) was 11, she was convicted of the manslaughter of two children and given a life sentence. At the trial in 1968 X’s name was disclosed to the public. She was released in 1980 with a new identity. Since that time her identity had been discovered several times, leading to X and her daughter, ‘Y’, having to relocate on five separate occasions. X had managed to lead a generally settled life for 23 years, and her and her partner had brought up Y to be a well balanced child. Y was now 19. X and Y sought lifetime anonymity from intrusions of the media and any disclosure of their identities, or details of their lives that might identify them. The Defendants did not oppose the application in principle and suggested the wording of the draft order.

Issue

Whether the Applicants’ exceptional circumstances warranted the grant of lifetime protection contra mundum.

Held

The identity and whereabouts were sufficiently confidential to be capable of protection. There was much to lose for X from publicity. The combination of her young age at the time of the offences, the length of time since the offences occurred, the limited nature of the information to be protected and, in particular, X’s medical condition, together with the absence of any objections from the media made a powerful case in support of X’s application which tipped the balance of Articles 8 and 10 in her favour. Y had to be treated in the same way, as identification of one would lead to identification of the other. For the injunctions to be effective, they had to bind the world. Injunctions granted contra mundum.

Comment

The Media was right to express the fear that the limits of this jurisdiction were unclear and that these orders represented the “thin end of the wedge”. Their fears have been borne out. It now appears that all that needs to be shown in order to qualify for a new identity backed up with wide-ranging court orders is a death threat (described by the police as “credible”) – see Maxine Carr v NGN & Others.