Anonymity granted for council-tax case mum over fears children would be bullied

A single mother involved in a legal fight about council tax with her local council should remain anonymous in media reports, a High Court judge has ruled. 

Mr Justice Underhill had ruled that the woman – who has four children – could not be identified in reports of a hearing at the High Court on Tuesday of her case against the London Borough of Haringey.
 
Yesterday he dismissed an application to discharge the anonymity order and allow the woman to be named made by the Press Association.
 
Lawyers representing the woman said she feared that her children "might be teased or bullied" if her name emerged in reports containing detail of the family's "financial position".
 
Ian Wise QC, for the woman, told the judge that fear of the children suffering was a matter of "very considerable concern" to his client.
 
He suggested that she might not have launched the action against the council had she known that she would be identified.
 
Wise said the judge had to balance the woman's right to family life under enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the media's rights to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 10 of the convention.
 
The Press Association argued – in a written submission to the judge – that the anonymity order was a "breach of the open justice principle".
 
The news agency said anonymity should only be granted if "strictly necessary in the interests of justice".
 
It said an anonymity order made on such terms left the door open to "every adult claimant or defendant in every court" to demand anonymity on the grounds that they had children who might teased or bullied by people who read reports of a case.
 
Clive Sheldon QC, for Haringey Council, suggested that the likelihood of teasing or bullying in the woman's case was very slim, and said the local authority supported the Press Association's application.
 
On Tuesday, Mr Justice Underhill had registered "slight distaste" when making the order.
 
"I never make anonymity orders just on the nod," Mr Justice Underhill had told the court on Tuesday.
 
"I believe justice should be in public. I don't think the reasons given are very strong."
 
He had added: "While registering my slight distaste in doing so, I am not prepared to take a different line and am accordingly prepared to make an anonymity order.
 
"I can see why it is slightly embarrassing. But slightly embarrassing is not enough.
 
"I will make the order."
 
Another judge had made a similar order in relation to another single mother who had previously been involved in the litigation, Justice Underhill had said then, adding that he was "not prepared to take a different line" and would make the order.
 
Yesterday he expressed similar sentiments today in ruling against the Press Association and saying that he would maintain anonymity. The woman's identity and personal circumstances were not "material" or "relevant" to the reporting of the case.
 
"That in itself, I make this quite clear, is not a reason for granting anonymity he said, adding: "But it means I am less troubled than I otherwise might be about maintaining anonymity."
 
He added: "I don't resile from the view, already expressed, of distaste. I don't find the argument for anonymity very strong."
 
Justice Underhill said he was "probably at fault" in not giving a reporter from the Press Association an opportunity to voice an opinion when he made the order on Tuesday.
 
The woman is challenging decisions relating to council tax. She says the London Borough of Haringey acted unlawfully when consulting on a "council tax reduction" scheme. Haringey Council disputes her claim.
 
Justice Underhill, who was sitting in the Administrative Court – a section of the High Court which hears challenges to decisions made by public bodies – dismissed the woman's application and ruled in favour of Haringey Council.
 
The woman said she aimed to appeal.
 
Twice in recent months, judges hearing High Court cases involving planning legislation have made similar anonymity rulings preventing adults involved being identified.
 
In January, Deputy High Court Judge Richard Salter QC said traveller and gipsy families should not be identified in a High Court case in London involving breaches of planning legislation at a site in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
 
The judge said the case involved six families who had in total 15 children.
 
He said it was not in the "best interests" of the children to be identified in media reports.
 
In December, Judge Anthony Thornton QC made a similar anonymity ruling in relation to a family involved in a planning appeal about a mobile home in Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire.
 
He said the case involved a couple with a 13-year-old boy and it was not in that youngster's interests to be identified in media reports.
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