M, R(on the application of) v The Parole Board and another  EWHC 1360 (Admin) – read judgment
Reporting restrictions on proceedings concerning a life prisoner should be discharged since the public interest in allowing media organisations to publish reports outweighed the prisoner’s human rights.
The claimant had been convicted of the brutal murder of three infant children in 1973. Subsequent to his incarceration in open prison, his movements had come to the attention of the press. Inmates made threats and the claimant was moved to secure conditions. When he sought judicial review of a decision by the parole board in 2011 (declining his return to open conditions), the judge granted an order restricting reporting of the claimant’s identity, the details of his offences and his current location. In this hearing, various media organisations intervened to request the discharge this order.
The claimant, who remains in a vulnerable prisoners unit (VPU), argued that the reporting restrictions order should remain in place, in the light of press reports which had triggered attacks or threats of attacks on him. These he said would threaten his rights to life under Article 2 and protection from degrading treatment under Article 3. He also contended that his rights under Article 5 were engaged in the event that he would, in consequence of the risk presented by disclosure of his details, have to remain in the segregated conditions of a VPU. Under Article 5 he had a right not to be detained arbitrarily. As to Article 8, he had the right to respect for his “physical and psychological integrity” which he maintained was threatened by the lifting of the anonymity order.
The media interveners contended that the Court, in this hearing, was only concerned with whether the Parole Board had made a legally valid decision not to recommend his transfer to open conditions, and that to impose a news black-out in a case of such seriousness would be to deny the public the right to know the outcome in a disproportionate way, which runs counter to the public need for open justice. They also submitted that it was the exceptional nature of the claimant’s crimes and his identity that generated and justified the public interest in his case. Whilst it was conceded that the claimant’s identity and whereabouts would need to be protected from public knowledge in order to ensure his safety and to facilitate his re-entry to society, the case advanced to the court by the media interveners was that in current circumstances a cogent case for anonymity has not been presented.
Reasoning behind the judgment
Pitchford LJ emphasised that courts should be vigilant to prevent inappropriate encroachment upon the right to report matters of public interest arising from court proceedings:
The importance of the principle of open justice at common law is so well known that it does not require further emphasis in this judgment. It is a cornerstone of the rule of law that public justice should be publicly reported unless the interests of justice otherwise require: Scott v Scott  AC 417 at 463
He considered in detail the authorities pertaining to the situation where the state’s positive obligation to protect life under Article 2 had to be weighed in the balance against the press interest under Article 10, observing there had to be a very high degree of risk calling for positive action for the authorities to protect life (Osman v United Kingdom 29 EHRR 245). Most of the cases on that point related to witness protection (most notably In re Officer L  1 WLR 2135 (HL), but the Supreme Court decision in favour of press freedom regarding the details of a terrorist suspect was relevant: In re: Guardian News and Media Ltd and Others  UK SC 1.
The most important factor was that there was at present no real and immediate risk to the claimant’s life and safety because he is serving his sentence in conditions in which his safety can be closely monitored. Experience had shown that interest in him waxed and waned depending on the prominence given to his offences and the profile of the prison population with whom he was serving his sentence.
Our decision by no means consigns the claimant to a VPU for the rest of his sentence.
There was no evidence that the claimant had been denied the means to engage in offence-related work which would enhance his progression within the prison system, and there was no evidence to support his Article 8 claim that his psychological health was not significantly at risk.
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