Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED May 21, 2003

Lifetime protective injunctions were granted where, balancing the restrictions upon the press and others not to be able to publish confidential details against the serious risk of public identification if no injunctions were in place, the exceptional circumstances of the applicants tipped the balance firmly in favour of granting the relief sought.Application for lifetime protective injunctions based on the risk of breaches of confidence as illuminated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights. The first applicant ('X', formerly known as Mary Bell) and her daughter ('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 in principle to the grant of the injunctions and suggested the wording of the draft order. Further, neither the Attorney-General nor the Official Solicitor opposed the applications. In 1968, when Mary Bell was 11, she was convicted of the manslaughter of two children by reason of diminished responsibility and sentenced to detention for life. At the trial in 1968 X's name was disclosed to the public. She spent 12 years in young offender institutions and subsequently prison and was released in 1980 with a new identity. Since that time X's identity had been discovered several times, leading to X and Y having to relocate under compulsion on five separate occasions. Despite consistent press intrusion and harassment X nevertheless had managed to lead a largely settled life as part of a community for 23 years. X and her partner had created a family life and brought up Y to be a well balanced child. Y was now 19. The applicants contended that there were exceptional circumstances in support of an injunction to protect X including: (i) the young age at which she committed the offences; (ii) the finding of diminished responsibility based upon solid evidence of her abusive childhood; (iii) the length of time that had expired since the offences were committed; (iv) the need to support her rehabilitation; (v) her semi-iconic status and the effect of the publicity on her rehabilitation; (vi) the serious risk of potential harassment; (vii) her present mental state; and (viii) her concerns for the welfare of Y. Y required protection due to her situation being inextricably linked to her mother's. The question under consideration was whether X and Y's circumstances were so exceptional that they should be granted lifetime protection contra mundum.HELD: (1) Although a number of people knew the identity and whereabouts of X and Y, there was no suggestion that this limited information was generally accessible and it retained the necessary degree of confidentiality capable of being protected. (2) The grounds for the lifetime protective injunctions were based on the risk, both for X and Y, of breaches of the law of confidence. There was no cogent threat to X's life and therefore the risk of harm to X did not reach the standard required to come within Art.2 of the Convention. If the situation changed in the future and there was a threat to X's life she would have the opportunity to return to court and seek protection based on the facts available. (3) Applications for protective injunctions were rare and the granting of such injunctions should be exceptional (see also Venables v News Group Newspapers Ltd & Ors (2001) 1 All ER 908). However, there was much for X to lose from publicity at this stage. She had managed, with the help of changes of identity, to make a new life and successfully bring up her daughter. The success of the rehabilitative process was also of benefit to the community and to risk it all at this late stage was a matter of considerable concern. The cumulative factors 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 objection by the media made a powerful case in support of X's application for continuing anonymity. (4) Y's situation, although considered separately from that of X, was so inextricably linked with that of her mother that it was not possible to treat them separately. The identification of one would lead to the identification of the other. If the court granted anonymity to one of the applicants, it had to grant it to both. (5) Article 8 of the Convention protected the physical and psychological integrity of a person but had to be balanced against the right of freedom of expression in Art.10. Neither Art.8 nor Art.10 was absolute in terms and each recognised the competing rights of the other article. The court was required to hold the balance between the conflicting interests they were designed to protect. Balancing the restriction upon the press and others not to be able to publish details of present names and addresses of X and Y against the serious risk of public identification of X and Y if no injunctions were in place, the exceptional circumstances, in particular X's fragile mental health, tipped the balance in favour of granting the relief sought. (6) For the injunctions to be effective, they had to bind the world, not only the defendants, who had not opposed the applications and had no intention to publish the identities of X or Y.Injunctions granted contra mundum with liberty to apply.

[2003] EWHC 1101 (QB)