Celebrities, sportsmen and others who took out injunctions to block publication of information about their private lives must remain anonymous even though the orders have now been discharged, a High Court judge has held.
The fact that the orders had ended also did not mean that it would now be lawful for anyone to publish the information they had covered, said Mr Justice Tugendhat.
His declaration came as he approved consent orders ending privacy actions between a group of claimants – all bar Fred Goodwin, the former head of Royal Bank of Scotland, referred to by initials only – and News Group Newspapers, the News International subsidiary which had published the now defunct News of the World, and still publishes The Sun.
The closure of the cases follows the court's decision to remind all the claimants of the need for cases in which interim non-disclosure were obtained to be progressed towards trial or settlement.
The court also had to be satisfied that the derogations from open justice which allowed claimants to remain anonymous, and the associated interference with the rights of others to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, were justified.
After giving details of the cases – involving Fred Goodwin (who was formerly referred to as MNB) and claimants referred to only as JIH, ETK, MJN, TSE, ELP, XJA and NOM – Mr Justice Tugendhat warned that the anonymity provisions were still in force.
A court should not make or keep a non-disclosure injunction in force unless doing so was a necessary and proportionate measure for one of the purposes set out in Article 10 (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, he said.
An injunction which was granted could be discharged for a number of reasons – a defendant who threatened to make the disclosure might no longer be threatening to do so, or a claimant might have decided against proceedings with the action, the judge said.
But a claimant's decision not to proceed against the current defendant, NGN, was not a bar to the same claimant launching a fresh another action in future against someone else who threatened to disclose the same or similar information.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said: "It follows that no reader of this judgment or of the orders can know simply from reading the judgment or order whether or not it would be lawful for someone other than the defendant to disclose the information in question now or in the future.
"If anyone knows, or believes that they know, what the information in question in any given case may be, then they would need to take advice as to whether publication of that information in the future would be lawful or not.
"It is impossible to tell from the mere fact that the injunctions have been discharged whether or not the claimants have achieved by bringing these cases objectives which are of value to them.
"Equally, it is impossible to tell from the mere fact that the injunctions have been discharged whether or not the defendant has been effectively prevented from disclosing information which, but for the injunctions, it would have disclosed. The actions have been compromised."