Anonymity in Privacy Claim Refused

In AAA and Others v Rakoff and Others, nine performers and two companies associated with the well-known “Spearmint Rhino” chain of lap dancing clubs have brought a claim against a campaigning organisation, Not Buying It, its spokesperson and two private investigators who had obtained video footage of alleged breaches of the licenses under which the clubs operate, for misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018. Following undertakings, the Claimants sought anonymity in the proceedings and an expedited trial scheduled for October 2019.

In a review of the case law on anonymity and reporting restrictions, Nicklin J emphasised that as a starting point, the open justice principle recognises that there is a public interest in knowing the names of parties and witnesses in all cases [37]. The basis on which the Claimants had sought anonymity as advanced in the hearing appeared to differ from that in the Claimants’ witness statements: in the latter, the Claimants had alluded to the harm caused if they were revealed to be performers at Spearmint Rhino, however at the hearing the principle concern was whether details from the footage would enter the public domain [40]. The Claimants’ position was difficult to understand and their concerns premature: the Court could adopt appropriate measures to protect the Claimants’ privacy rights at trial and the prospect of potential future issues did not justify an anonymity order now [42]. The Judgment emphasised the difference between an order under CPR 16.2, permitting proceedings to be issued using ciphers instead of real names, and a reporting restriction order prohibiting identification of a party: the Claimants had sought the first only.

Nicklin J also refused the Claimants’ application for an expedited trial. No sealed claim form had yet been served, and the undertakings agreed were a sufficient interim protection. Risks of delay identified by the Claimants were fanciful, and the effect on other court users would have been considerable [43].

The case has received prominent media attention (https://www.standard.co.uk) and (https://www.theguardian.com) .

The case is a reminder that Claimants cannot rely upon anonymity even in privacy claims, and that any derogation from the open justice principle sought will be the subject of intense scrutiny by the Courts. Applicants should clearly identify the precise ways in which open proceedings will interfere with their rights to privacy, and seek derogations which are proportionate to those.

Beth Grossman acted for the First and Second Defendants in successfully resisting the applications.

1st October 2019